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Rant, Rave

Published February 22, 2004

ESPN's power works against Lakers' Payton

Which came first, sports or ESPN? The two are so intertwined, sometimes it's hard to tell. The Worldwide Leader so dominates the landscape that a favorable or unfavorable report on ESPN can drastically alter national perception. It is the opinion leader, the gospel of the sports universe.

By and large ESPN tackles important issues with responsibility and aplomb, notably with its Outside the Lines show. But last week, during a routine SportsCenter telecast, it erred. And Lakers guard Gary Payton was the victim.

Payton was in a dustup Wednesday with Golden State guard Speedy Claxton. The two grappled, and ESPN freeze-framed a moment during which Payton, teeth bared, had his mouth next to Claxton's ear.

Cue the footage of Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield's ear. Though Payton's teeth weren't clenched on Claxton's ear, ESPN's anchors clearly insinuated Payton went Tyson on Claxton.

Payton was angered, and rightfully so. Who wants to be wrongly compared with Tyson? It turns out Payton, the Worldwide Leader in Trash Talk, was unleashing his vocal cords on Claxton's eardrum from close range.

Payton is a long-established public figure; he will be fine despite the unfair depiction. But ESPN wields an inordinate amount of power, and it must remain steadfast in ensuring accuracy and fairness.

Small player, small school? They give foes big worries

How fitting that in the Year of the Small School in NCAA men's basketball, the littlest guy at one of the littlest schools has become the towering symbol of small-school success.

Jameer Nelson, the under 6-foot dynamo for Saint Joseph's, has propelled the Hawks to a No.2 national ranking and has them steamrolling to an unbeaten season and a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Nelson, the jinx-defying Sports Illustrated coverboy who has verve and panache, is the likely national player of the year. He is a senior who wisely came back to school and is accomplishing the extraordinary. But he and the Hawks share this space with a band of other so-called mid-major schools, little guys that have blue-blood fans researching the no-names in the Top 25.

Gonzaga has become such a fixture in the NCAAs and national rankings that the woeful Pac-10 ought to conscript the Zags. This is Gonzaga's best team ever and a legitimate threat to go all the way.

Entering the weekend, Southern Illinois was 21-2 and ranked No.20, and 20-2 Utah State just dropped from the rankings last week. Others jockeying just outside the Top 25 include Air Force (18-4), Dayton (20-5), Kent State (19-3) and Western Michigan (19-3).

With the irrepressible Nelson leading the way, this is the year the small school could make some big noise in the NCAAs.

[Last modified February 22, 2004, 01:45:26]

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