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DIANE PUCIN / ON SPORTS MEDIA

All the stars come out for the ESPYs

The show, which will be broadcast Sunday by ESPN, is wildly popular among athletes and actors. This year Michael Phelps steals the show and the Lakers also get their due.

July 16, 2009|DIANE PUCIN

It's a good thing athletes don't rely on a teleprompter and a good thing the ESPY awards broadcast scheduled for Sunday on ESPN was recorded Wednesday night at the Nokia Theatre LA Live. It will provide an opportunity for some cleanup.

As host Samuel L. Jackson said after he stood dumbstruck for a moment on stage, "I wish I had learned the monologue. Then I wouldn't have to stand here waiting on the monitor. Play some more music. Please."

Eventually the teleprompter lit up and the ESPY awards show was able to go on. Lakers fans will want to tune in to the 6 p.m. telecast Sunday because a certain NBA team that wears purple and gold won the best team trophy. And Michael Phelps fans will want to tune in because the Olympic swimmer seemed to win just about everything else.

Fans vote for the awards and 13 were handed out. Phelps, who won best male athlete, also won four others.

The awards show was created by the cable sports network as a way to fill program time in the dog days of summer, but it has become a popular meet-and-greet crossover time with Hollywood stars mingling with famous athletes.

In one moment, "Entourage" actor Jeremy Piven said, "Sorry I'm not a professional athlete," followed by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (winner of breakthrough athlete) saying he would have loved to have had a part in a Rashida Jones movie while Jones, who is the daughter of Quincy Jones and had a prominent role in "The Office" sitcom, blushed as she stood next to Ryan.

And there were touching moments. Tennis sisters Venus and Serena Williams offered a tribute to Nelson Mandela, who received the Arthur Ashe courage award.

Mandela's daughter Zindzi and grandson Zondwa accepted the silver trophy from the Williams sisters and Zindzi drew a laugh when she congratulated the U.S. soccer team for shocking the world in South Africa last month when it upset Spain.

Actor Rob Lowe had the honor to present the Jimmy V Perseverance award to Northern State University men's basketball Coach Don Meyer. Meyer survived an automobile accident in which he lost his left leg.

During surgery to repair internal damage from the crash, doctors also discovered Meyer had cancer. But Meyer coached this season from a wheelchair and earned the evening's loudest ovation Wednesday.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented the award for best female athlete to Olympic all-around gold medalist Nastia Liukin, who looked a little shocked to have beaten out Serena Williams.

As Liukin said, "To say the least I was surprised to win. Even watching my video up there gave me goose bumps. That was enough for me. To win an ESPY, there aren't many words for that."

Actress Demi Moore offered the trophy for best male athlete to Phelps. The Olympic swimmer who won eight gold medals in the pool, then was caught on camera appearing to inhale from a bong, seems to have won back fan approval.

The night's best running gag was Jackson's checking out fake Twitter messages, for example Phelps supposedly tweeting, "Can't believe I lost the Arthur Ashe Award to Nelson Mandela. I can swim circles around that guy."

Jackson also goofed on a couple of the young quarterbacks in the audience, Georgia's Matthew Stafford (who was drafted by Detroit) and USC's Mark Sanchez (drafted by the New York Jets).

"Matthew Stafford is here," Jackson said. "Once you actually play for the Lions, they stop inviting you. And, Mark, I admire you for leaving USC early. Most players wouldn't want to take the pay cut."

But at least for locals, the best came last. Stevie Wonder made the presentation to the season's best team and Kobe Bryant, surrounded by several teammates including Derek Fisher, accepted the trophy and thanked Jerry Buss first.

That might have been the smartest move of the night.

--

diane.pucin@latimes.com

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