'They are the best team in the NBA, and Shaq ... he's just unbelievable.' – New Jersey Nets' coach Byron Scott on the L.A. Lakers, who swept the Nets in the NBA championships.

Records fall to o'neal

Shaquille O'Neal confirmed his place among basketball's all-time greats Wednesday when he joined one of the NBA's exclusive clubs.

After leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 113-107 win over the New Jersey Nets to complete a four-game sweep of their NBA championship final, O'Neal collected his third consecutive playoff MVP award, a feat accomplished by only one other player – Michael Jordan.

O'Neal will have an opportunity next year to go one up on Jordan when the Lakers chase what many predict will be a fourth NBA crown.

O'Neal established a new mark for most free-throw attempts in a four-game series (68) and, surprisingly, the most made (45). "I just knew I had to make them," O'Neal said. "If I were to start missing them, they probably would have gone into the Hack-a-Shaq strategy."

A more open US Open

It's a wonderful way to bring a rich man's sport to the people: Hold one of the world's biggest golf tournaments on a public course that doesn't require a second mortgage to pay the greens fees.

Yesterday, the US Open started on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y., where it costs just $39 to play on the weekends – and $8 less during the week.

Don't get used to the concept, however. While the US Golf Association is keen to play more Opens on public courses such as Bethpage Black, there are none in the current rotation that runs through 2007.

"It's no secret that other public facilities have seen what's happened at Bethpage and have decided to shoot high," said David Fay, president of the USGA. After picking Bethpage as host of the 2002 Open, the USGA pumped about $3 million into renovating the clubhouse and upgrading the course.

Many players have lauded the USGA for selecting a true public course this year, including Tiger Woods.

"I think it's special for all the players," he said. "For a lot of us, it's how we grew up playing."

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