Work in Sports
The 'Big Ending'
Shaq now has Finals MVP trophy to go with others
LOS ANGELES -- It took Shaquille OšNeal eight long seasons, but he finally reached the pinnacle.
The Lakersš 116-111 victory in Game Six that gave L.A. its first NBA championship since 1988, ended a torturous journey that took several cruel and often humbling turns for OšNeal.
The journey forced the 7-1, 315-pound dominator of the NBAšs giants to swallow his pride following an embarrassing NBA Finals sweep. He had to endure critics who questioned his ability to win and his dedication to the game. (Not to mention the red herring of the year: his inability to shoot free throws, which was topped off by the insulting Hack-a-Shaq.)
He faced the ridicule of those who looked for deep meaning from an oversized kid who was just having fun when he introduced the world to Shaq-Fu and several less-than-Oscar-worthy movies and less-than-Grammy-worthy records.
But he withstood it all, learning to just grin and bear it. Opponents werenšt so lucky.
"This year, Shaqšs been attacking, and hešs just been great for us all year long," said teammate Kobe Bryant.
In Game Six, Shaq was in total attack mode, and Indiana never had a chance. OšNeal used his 47 minutes of playing time to take out all the frustration on Rik Smits and any other Indiana Pacer who got in his way. He scored 41 points in that time and left Smits and company wondering what hit them.
The prophecy of Shaq as the next great Lakers center was fulfilled. As confetti fell from the ceiling of the Staples Center, fans cheered and music blared from the speakers, Shaq wandered around the floor of his fiefdom, his frustration cleansed by the tears that streamed down his face.
"Išve held the emotion for about 11 years now, three years of college and eight years here; I wanted to win," he said. "It [the emotion] just came up."
The press called OšNeal Finals MVP. Shaq would probably just call himself "The Big Winner."
The Pacers' Reggie Miller, for one, wouldn't argue.
"I think a lot of it has to do with [coach] Phil Jackson coming in and giving Shaq and the others confidence," Miller said. "I know Phil told everybody right at first that this was Shaq's team and the ball goes through Shaq."
Lakers owner Jerry Buss said O'Neal was confident -- and determined -- this season.
"He just feels like he is the best player, and he set out to prove it," Buss said. "I think he did it to everyone's satisfaction."
O'Neal gleefully gave himself many nicknames in the past, including "The Big Aristotle" when he won the 1999-2000 regular-season MVP and quoted the philosopher: "Excellence is not a singular act; it's a habit."
Other nicknames he came up with: "The Big Maravich" after he made nine free throws in a row against Portland in the playoffs; "The Big Felon," after he made a game-saving steal against Orlando; and "The Big Cordially," because, he said, "I'm nice."
O'Neal was the unanimous choice in the NBA Finals MVP voting. He was just one short of getting all the votes in the regular-season MVP balloting.
He becomes only the third player in NBA history to win all three MVP awards in the same year, joining Michael Jordan, who did it twice, and Willis Reed.