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 Wednesday, May 10
Shaq receives all but one vote
 Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Shaquille O'Neal was dominant again, this time at the ballot box.

Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal's first MVP award was a slam dunk.

There was no doubt the powerful Los Angeles Lakers center would win his first NBA Most Valuable Player award for his terrific work this season, with the only question being whether he would be the first-ever unanimous selection.

He missed, by one vote.

"The first thing I did was call my mother and father," O'Neal said Tuesday at the Los Angeles Lakers' practice facility in suburban El Segundo, where he was presented the Maurice Podoloff Trophy as the NBA's 45th MVP. "My father started crying."

O'Neal, a 7-foot-1, 315-pounder who led the league in scoring and field goal percentage, received 120 of 121 votes from a panel of sports writers and broadcasters, with the remaining vote going to Philadelphia's Allen Iverson.

O'Neal's 99.2 percentage was the highest for any player since the league introduced the award in 1955-56. Michael Jordan received 96.5 percent of the vote in four years ago.

"That was kind of hard to believe," O'Neal said. "I've always thought that Michael Jordan, Magic and Kareem and Wilt were the greatest players in the NBA."

O'Neal received 1,207 points in the voting. Minnesota's Kevin Garnett was second with 408 and Miami's Alonzo Mourning was third with 367. Iverson was seventh with 132.

Tuesday, May 9
Shaquille O'Neal lifted his entire game this season, and I think part of that was due to Phil Jackson, who challenged Shaq to play a Wilt Chamberlain kind of game. That means big minutes and a more complete game, with assists, shot blocking, rebounding and scoring. And Shaq has done that.

The best part of his improved play was that he became a much more active defender -- as a rebounder, shot blocker and intimidator -- and he focused on his passing. He has become the best passing center in the league, leading all centers in assists. Remember, Shaq led the league in turnovers as a rookie, so he has made significant strides. Playing within the triangle offense has helped Shaq because it's easier for him to pick out where his receivers are going to be.

Plus, Chamberlain had a season in which he averaged more than 48 minutes a game. And Shaq averaged 40 minutes, the most of his career. He led the league in scoring and field-goal percentage, was second in rebounding, and was fourth in blocked shots and minutes played. I can't imagine anyone voting for a player other than Shaq. He is the clear MVP.

"He's playing at a level rarely seen in the NBA," Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss said.

O'Neal was practically a sure thing, having led the Lakers to a 67-15 record, second best in franchise history, and making them prohibitive favorites to win their first title since 1988.

"This is a very special day for a very special player. I think we're all very excited he was able to win this award in such unprecedented fashion," Lakers VP of basketball operations Jerry West said. "God, I feel sorry for the one guy who didn't vote for him."

That was Fred Hickman of CNN/SI, who opted to vote for Iverson.

"You take Shaq away from the Lakers and you've still got a great team," Hickman said. "You take Iverson away from the 76ers and they are the Clippers, the Hawks. They are no longer contenders."

O'Neal laughed off questions about not getting every first-place vote.

"The one guy who didn't vote (for me): Thank you, too," he said with a grin. "I appreciate it."

Lakers coach Phil Jackson, Jordan's coach when he won four MVP awards in Chicago, said O'Neal "certainly deserved it this year."

"I think his leadership has been the most important thing for us," Jackson said. "This is the honor that everyone wants in this league, but we don't have a championship, yet."

O'Neal won his second scoring title this season, averaging a career-high 29.7 points on 57.4 percent shooting. He was second in rebounding with a 13.6 average, and averaged 3.03 blocks and a career-high 3.8 assists.

"The only person who can stop Shaquille O'Neal is Shaquille O'Neal, and that hasn't happened this year," Lakers forward Glen Rice said.

"He's been leading our team all year long," said guard Ron Harper, a member of three championship teams in Chicago, who, referring to Jordan, added, "I played with one before, huh?"

"He had a tremendous, tremendous season," guard Kobe Bryant said. "He played at a high level every night."

O'Neal, 28, is the first Laker to win the award since Magic Johnson did so for a second straight time in 1990. O'Neal is in his fourth season with the Lakers after playing his first four NBA campaigns with the Orlando Magic.

"This is the first time I've been knick-knack injury free in Los Angeles," he said. "The ultimate goal is to win the championship. This is the best team I've ever played on. If we can get it done this year, my plate will be full as a player."

After signing as a free agent with the Lakers in July, 1996, O'Neal missed 53 games over his first two seasons in L.A. because of injuries. He struggled with a strained groin last season.

He missed only two games because of injury this season, both last month because of an ankle sprain after the Lakers had clinched the NBA's best record and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.

O'Neal has averaged an NBA-high 30.7 points and 16.8 rebounds in six playoff games. The Lakers take a 1-0 lead over Phoenix into Wednesday night's Game 2 of their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals.

O'Neal succeeds Utah's Karl Malone as MVP. The NBA's Rookie of the Year Award will be announced Thursday. Steve Francis of the Houston Rockets and Elton Brand of the Chicago Bulls will share the honor, a league source confirmed.

They will be the third co-winners for the award following Jason Kidd and Grant Hill in 1994-95 and Dave Cowens and Geoff Petrie in 1970-71.


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