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DIANE PUCIN / ON SPORTS MEDIA

ESPYs and fun go hand in hand

Samuel L. Jackson will again be the host for the awards show.

July 15, 2009|DIANE PUCIN

It's not all about dressing up, walking the red carpet or attending the gift suite at Dodger Stadium where Tom Lasorda was eating a Dodger Dog on Tuesday afternoon (the really good gifts were being saved for nominees and presenters anyway).

The ESPYs are about so much more than that.

"Well," Venus Williams said Tuesday, "I'm going because my sister is going. So I'm going. But I don't know what I'm wearing yet."

OK, so maybe the ESPYs are mostly about dressing up.

Williams missed the ninth annual ESPY Celebrity Golf Classic at Industry Hills Golf Club. The tournament raised $950,000 for the V Foundation for Cancer Research, the foundation started by the late basketball coach Jim Valvano.

But tonight is all about having fun. Athletes will walk a red carpet on their way into the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live and actor Samuel L. Jackson is the host, the fourth time Jackson has done the duty. He comes by his sports knowledge honestly. He's a fan, always has been.

"My grandfather used to take me to minor league baseball games in Chattanooga," Jackson said. "The Lookouts. I saw a lot of Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. My high school had great sports teams. I grew up watching segregated sports in Tennessee and we always used to say Pete Maravich was the only black player in the SEC."

And as far as honing his hosting skills, Jackson also paid attention to the right talent. "I liked the way Johnny Carson was always so relaxed. He had an ease about him, a good way of talking to all his guests, making fun of them sometimes but also admiring them. Guys like Jack Paar and Edward R. Murrow, I took something from them too."

Jackson is aware that these aren't the Academy Awards. Fans vote online after all, so this is more popularity contest than lifetime achievement. There will be comedy skits and Jackson has received a warning from a likely winner who can't be on hand, Tiger Woods. Woods had a pesky previous commitment, the British Open that begins Thursday.

"Tiger told me not to mess the show up," Jackson said. "The special thing about the show is that it takes time to acknowledge who the fans think are the best players or the best team or had the most exciting play. Sports are about the fans and it's kind of cool the fans can vote.

"Plus, it's a great time for me to see a lot of guys I don't see as often as I'd like and I get a chance to ridicule some players who aren't on my favorite teams or players on my favorite teams who didn't live up to my expectations."

The ESPYs began in 1993 (Dennis Miller was the host) and were held in New York until 2000 when they moved to Las Vegas. But Los Angeles seems the right place to have a not-so-serious evening of raunchy humor and a chance to point to your favorite athlete and say, "Did he/she really wear that?"

The show won't be televised until Sunday but if you hang out at L.A. Live this afternoon you can stalk the red carpet and play like Joan Rivers and wonder who has had cosmetic surgery, has lost (or gained) weight, who should have used a stylist to pick out the dress or suit.

And, of course, yell out, "Kobe, Kobe, Kobe."

Bryant is one of four nominees for male athlete of the year. LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps and NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson are the others.

One suspects Lakers fans will leave happy. Maybe UCLA fans too.

Nominated in the category "Best Upset" is the Oregon State football win over then top-ranked USC last fall. The other contenders are the Tampa Bay Rays winning the American League championship, Mine That Bird winning the Kentucky Derby and the U.S. upsetting Spain last month in soccer.

Blame yourself for not voting enough, UCLA people, if Oregon State doesn't win.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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