- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. Whether or not the Los Angles Lakers go down in history as a dynasty is for the future to determine. But with the completion of their four-game sweep of the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals, culminating in last night's 113-107 victory at Continental Airlines Arena and their third straight championship, the Lakers are without peer in today's game.

The Lakers became only the fifth team in NBA history to win three consecutive championships, and in each of their three championship series they have needed one less game to secure their legacy. When they beat the Indiana Pacers in 2000 they did it in six games; last year against Philadelphia they needed five.

Not surprisingly, Los Angeles was led by ever-dominant Shaquille O'Neal. Unchallenged as the top player on this planet this morning, O'Neal, who captured his third straight finals MVP award, eviscerated the Nets for 34 points and 10 rebounds. Kobe Bryant added 25 points and eight assists for the Lakers.

O'Neal became the second player in league history to win the finals MVP award three times, and he joins Michael Jordan as the only player to ever win the honor in three consecutive finals.

Coach Phil Jackson won his ninth championship, tying Hall of Fame Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach for the most in league history. The sweep marked the first time a Jackson-led team has won the finals in four games, and the victory moved him ahead of Miami Heat coach Pat Riley for the most playoff wins (156).

"I'm going to have to call up Red and tell him to FedEx one of those cigars because I didn't bring one here with me," Jackson said.

Earlier in the day Jackson was informed that it was 11 years ago to the date that the Chicago Bulls, with whom he won six titles, won the first of his nine championships.

"I never dreamed that I would ever get to this point when I started coaching, that's I'd be sitting here in this position," Jackson said. "It is an honor to be mentioned in the same breath with Red."

But Jackson turned his sights on next season, a season in which he could very well put the record out of reach with a 10th title. As of now, it doesn't look as if any team out there is capable of denying them.

"I'm looking forward to coming back here and trying to win my 10th," said Jackson, who has two years remaining on his contract.

With O'Neal under contract until 2005, the Lakers have a very real possibility of putting Jackson's numbers out of reach.

"We are a great team," O'Neal said. "We stuck together through a lot of tough times in order to get to this point. Now that we are here it feels good. Real good."

O'Neal had his best playoff series yet, breaking a number of records for a four-game NBA Finals. O'Neal set the record for points (145), free throw attempts (68) and free throws made (45). Washington's Phil Chenier held the last record formerly.

The Lakers were carried by their 3-point shooting, making 11 of 19 in the game.

The Nets, who made an improbable run to the finals, were led by Kenyon Martin's 35 points and 11 rebounds. Lucious Harris came off the bench to score 22 points. Jason Kidd finished with 13 points and 11 assists.

Coincidentally, the last time a team was swept in the finals it was the O'Neal-led Orlando Magic in 1995 by the Houston Rockets.

O'Neal, who has a Superman tattoo on one of his massive arms, looked every bit the part as the game wore on. Whenever Jackson removed him from the game such as late in the third quarter when the Lakers quickly lost a seven-point lead Los Angeles looked beatable.

And whenever O'Neal was on the court, the Lakers looked like world-beaters. He scored 10 points in the third quarter and the Lakers began the fourth quarter leading 84-80.

After dropping the first three games of the series, the Nets had been reduced to a team that resembled dead men walking. There was no pep in their step as they went about the business of doing their interviews with the national media on off-days, and the pending end of their miracle season has been the buzz in the New York metropolitan area for the last few days.

But the Nets did not begin the game as if they had no chance at victory. With the emotionally combustive Martin pumping his fist and screaming after dunks on his way to 17 first-quarter points, the Nets made almost 58 percent of their field goals and opened up an 11-point lead.

However, the Nets did little in the form of neutralizing O'Neal, who opened with 12 points. And the Lakers appeared to be in their offensive rhythm as well, making 50 percent of their field goals at the start.

The Lakers promptly wiped out the Nets' lead early in the second quarter, reducing New Jersey's lead to a 58-52 advantage on Derrick Fisher's 3-pointer with just over a minute left in the half.

However, New Jersey made the most of the final minute, outscoring the Lakers 6-0 to the end of the half. One play stood out.

Rookie Richard Jefferson exploded to the basket on a fast break, beating a few Lakers on the way, and finished with a monstrous slam over a leaping Bryant, sending the crowd into delirium.

Despite being outscored 31-23 in the quarter by the Lakers, the Nets trailed by one point at the half, mostly because of the second-quarter disappearance of Martin. After hoisting 13 shots in the first quarter, Martin took just one which he missed in the second.w

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