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Shaq Is Easy Winner of NBA MVP Award

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shaquille O'Neal of the Los Angeles Lakers won the Most Valuable Player Award today, finishing one vote shy of becoming the first unanimous choice in NBA history.

The 7-foot-1 center, who led the league in scoring and field goal percentage, won the award for the first time. He received 120 of 121 votes from a panel of sports writers and broadcasters, said an NBA source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

This was the highest vote percentage (99.1) for a winner since the award began in the 1955-56 season.

Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers received the other vote, from Fred Hickman of CNN/SI.

``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.''

The Lakers would not confirm the MVP Award but scheduled a ``major'' news conference for today when the NBA was to announce the winner.

O'Neal's selection was first reported today by the Los Angeles Times.

There was little question O'Neal would win. He proved unstoppable this season in leading the Lakers to a 67-15 record, second best in franchise history, and made them prohibitive favorites for their first title since 1988.

``I hope I get it,'' O'Neal said with a smile Monday when asked about the MVP award. ``I'm having a pretty good year.''

Finishing his eighth NBA season, O'Neal is the first Lakers player to win the award since Magic Johnson did so for a second straight time in 1990. Utah's Karl Malone won the award last year.

O'Neal won his second scoring title this season, averaging a career-high 29.7 points. He also led the NBA in field goal percentage (.574), was second in rebounding with a 13.6 average, and averaged 3.03 blocks and a career-high 3.8 assists.

The 28-year-old center played his first four NBA seasons with the Orlando Magic before signing as a free agent with Los Angeles in July 1996. He missed a total of 53 games because of injuries in his first two seasons with the Lakers and was hampered by a strained groin last season.

``My first four years were pretty dominant,'' he said. ``When I came here, I had some injuries. This year, I've been pretty much doing the same thing (as in Orlando).''

O'Neal 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 home-court 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 second game of their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal.

``I would say this is the best team I've been on,'' O'Neal said. ``Everyone gets along.''

The NBA's Rookie of the Year Award will be announced Thursday, with Steve Francis of the Houston Rockets and Elton Brand of the Chicago Bulls reportedly sharing the honor.

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


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