Wednesday, June 12
Updated: June 13, 1:12 PM ET
Shaq joins MJ as back-to-back-to-back MVPs
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Shaquille O'Neal's arthritic toe still hurts. It has troubled him for months but is the last thing he's concerned about now.
"I'm just going to take time off and just hang out with my children, just chill out,'' O'Neal said Wednesday night after leading the Los Angeles Lakers to their third straight championship and winning his third straight finals MVP award. "Go out, meet all the best foot doctors in the world, then I'll make the best decision possible.''
Three months ago, O'Neal said there was an 80 percent chance he would have surgery on his big right toe, so painful it caused him to spend two stints on the injured list.
He hadn't been anywhere near his usual dominating self until the final two games of the Western Conference finals -- when the Lakers needed him most.
And that's the way it went as the Lakers beat the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals, completing a four-game sweep with a 113-107 victory.
O'Neal had 34 points and 10 rebounds and was the clear choice for MVP.
He joined Michael Jordan (1991-93, 1996-98) as the only players to win three straight Finals MVPs since the award was first presented in 1969. Hakeem Olajuwon (1994-95) is the only other player to win the award in consecutive years.
Just as he did in the last two Finals, O'Neal controlled the inside, averaging 36.3 points and 12.3 rebounds in the four games.
Earlier this week, O'Neal called that one of the lowest moments of his life.
O'Neal also set four-game finals records with his 68 free throw attempts and 45 conversions -- 66 percent.
"I knew if I didn't make my free throws that they would go to Hack-a-Shaq, and I didn't want to go through that again,'' he said.
O'Neal's sudden accuracy at the line actually began before the Finals -- he went 13-of-17 and 11-of-15 in the last two games of the conference finals. He was 12-of-20 from the floor and 10-of-16 from the foul line Wednesday night.
"He's the best right now, there's no one greater than him,'' said Robert Horry, a teammate of Olajuwon's in Houston. "Without him, we probably would have been sitting at home watching this. I know we would have. Shaq was like a big man playing with little kids, he was so dominant.''
O'Neal was pleased his performance came near his birthplace of Newark.
"Actually, I went to the park where I first started at last night, about 12, 1:30,'' he said. "As a youngster, I just used to play with the raggedy basketball my father got me.
"I just used to dream about certain things. I just stuck with it and all my dreams have come true.''
O'Neal said he spent time with many of his aunts, uncles and cousins.
"Had some fried chicken and macaroni, hung out with my family,'' he said. "Introduced my kids to my grandfather and my great grandmothers, let them meet them. Showed them where I grew up, showed them the houses I used to live in.
"Even thought we're an away team, I was still pretty much at home.''
O'Neal certainly made himself at home on the court. He did most of his damage in the first three quarters, with 28 points and eight rebounds. In the final period, with the Nets surrounding him, he mostly deferred to teammates.
But his turnaround in the lane with 1:24 remaining gave the Lakers a 108-99 lead. With that, the Lakers had enough to become the fifth team to win as many as three straight championships.
Nets general manager Rod Thorn has seen a lot of basketball in his day, and O'Neal leaves him awed.
"I think he was sensational,'' Thorn said. "I think he's gotten better, he's the most dominant force in this game, one of the most dominant forces in the history of this game.''
"And he's getting better,'' he added. "Anybody wants to win the championship has to deal with him, and he's very, very difficult to deal with.''