Shaq Leaves Final Imprint

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the Lakers came back from 15 points down in the fourth quarter of the seventh game of the Western Conference finals last season to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers, there was wide-eyed amazement on the face of Shaquille O'Neal.

When the Lakers defeated the Indiana Pacers in the NBA Finals last season, there were tears running down his face.

But when the Lakers finished off the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night at First Union Center, there was only quiet satisfaction, a few hugs and the look of a man who still has more work to do.

O'Neal, the man who once said he had won a championship at every level except college and the pros, the man whose years at Louisiana State ended in frustration, the man who was swept in a postseason series five times in seven seasons, the man with so much to prove a year ago, now expects to win.

Again and again.

"I'm happy," he said, "but I'm also greedy."

In O'Neal's mind, the question is no longer if, but how many.

"The first championship was to get the monkey off my back," he said. "The ones from now are to stamp my name in history, no matter what team I'm on."

The Lakers certainly hope it will be with them until O'Neal is too old to reach the rim.

O'Neal was named most valuable player of the Finals for the second consecutive season after averaging 33 points, 15.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks.

It was vindication for a difficult season for O'Neal. In his moment of glory, his uniform soaked in champagne, his troubles seemed as far away as his struggles at Louisiana State and with the Orlando Magic.

Nearly forgotten was the fact he had reported for the 2000-2001 season out of shape. Gone was his feud with teammate Kobe Bryant, a feud that got so bad O'Neal once grumbled that he would prefer to play elsewhere.

Not as long as Jerry Buss, Mitch Kupchak and Phil Jackson are breathing.

Ultimately, O'Neal got back into shape, got back on the same page with Bryant and the rest of the league only could watch helplessly as the Lakers won 23 of their last 24 games, climaxing with Friday's 108-96 title-clinching victory.

"Shaq was the dominant player," said Jackson, his coach. "He was the guy that was the motivator and the energizer for our team."

Jackson said the turning point in the Finals came after the first game, the only one the Lakers lost in the postseason.

Philadelphia guard Allen Iverson had 48 points in the 76ers' overtime victory. O'Neal had 44.

And no blocked shots.

Jackson sat down with O'Neal in the locker room and pointed to the big, fat zero.

"We really need your defense," he told his 7-foot-1, 330-pound center.

From then on, O'Neal was a terror in the middle and a headache for the wave after wave of Philadelphia defenders that tried to slow him. He shut down the 76er offense, blocking 17 shots in the last four games.

"Shaq a lot of times has not been as obvious a leader as he was this year," Jackson said.

In the final quarter of the final game, O'Neal's dominance finished off Philadelphia's last charge.

Center Matt Geiger, desperately trying every measure, legal and illegal, to stop O'Neal, fouled out.

Center Dikembe Mutombo, trying the same tactics, fouled out.

So there were the 76ers with only Todd MacCulloch left in the middle, helpless at the finish.

It was fitting imprint to the season for O'Neal and just how dominating he was.

"For him to win the second one," Jackson said, "I think you know this is a validation of your greatness, your ability."

Wilt Chamberlain once said that nobody loves Goliath.

Although he won two NBA titles, including one for the Lakers, Chamberlain never was a loved figure. Controversy always seemed to dog him.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the next dominating Laker center, won six titles, including five as a Laker. But, perceived as aloof, he too never was loved.

But this current Goliath has been embraced by a city starved for championships after the lean years of the '90s.

And O'Neal made it plain Friday night, that there will be no more charges of being out of shape, no more doubts about his ability.

"I am going to take the week off," he said, "and then I'm going to come back leaner and meaner."

That ought the cause the tears to flow from the rest of the league.

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MVP, MVP

Shaquille O'Neal's statistics for the 2000 and 2001 NBA Finals, in which he was named the most valuable player each time:

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2001 2000 Field Goals Made-Attempted, Pct. 63-110, .572 96-157, .611 Free Throws Made-Attempted, Pct. 39-76, .513 36-93, .387 Points Per Game 33.0 38.0 Rebounds Per Game 15.8 16.7 Assists Per Game 4.8 2.3 Blocked Shots Per Game 3.4 2.7 Personal Fouls Per Game 4.0 3.3

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