Commentary

Behind the scenes at the 2009 ESPYS

Originally Published: July 17, 2009
By Sam Alipour & Mary Buckheit | Page 2

LOS ANGELES -- ESPYS week is over, sports fans. What we've learned so far: The Playboy Mansion and Terrell Owens, reality TV star, are far from dull. Here's what you won't see on Sunday night's telecast of the 2009 ESPY Awards.

Media Blitz

Carmelo Anthony LaLa Vazquez hosts official ESPYS Pre-Party at J Lounge

"I'm an ESPYS veteran now, so I'm just trying to do my part," said Melo of his decision to co-host with his fiancé Vazquez. But who's running the show? Kidded LaLa: "I think you already know the answer to that question." Added Melo, sheepishly: "I just play hoops, man." And smartly hand out bribes, it seems. Rapper Young Jeezy said he was performing in part because "Melo gave me a jersey."

Different Pre-Party priorities

There are many reasons to make the ESPYS Pre-Party. Vikings defensive end Jared Allen attended because "My publicist told me to be here -- pretty simple," he quipped. For NASCAR's Jeff Gordon and his wife, model Ingrid Vandebosch, "this is Mom and Dad's getaway from our 2-year-old." Matthew Stafford was there to do battle with his buddy in EA's "Fight Night" and "maybe party a little now that I'm 21." The rookie Lions QB's schedule also included presenting at Gatorade's Athlete of the Year luncheon. ("I still feel a little more comfortable with the high school kids," he said.) And Cowboys coach Wade Phillips? Let's just say he was eyeing the food.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesBlake Griffin looks like he's enjoying the pro life thus far.

The show begins -- and two rookie big men will never be the same

For Blake Griffin, the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, the red-carpet arrivals were a wake-up call. "Clippers aren't getting the same love from the crowd as the Lakers, but hopefully I can help change that," he said. Griffin's red-carpet wingman was Grizzlies rookie Hasheem Thabeet, who was "nervous, happy, and excited. I'm trying my best not to throw up." The Tanzanian kidded that he was happy to play wingman. "Blake gets all the ladies. I'm [the] No. 2 [pick], he's No. 1, so he gets them for me."

The snubbed

There appear to be two ways to handle an ESPYS snub. Kevin Durant, a former College Male Athlete of the Year, practiced humility, conceding "It's gonna be a long time till I win another ESPY, going up against LeBron and D-Wade and those guys." Pacers All-Star Danny Granger, on the other hand, was fired up. "I'll be nominated for an ESPY very soon," he said, "and for Best Team, because we'll win the national championship." The what? "I mean, the NBA championship, the Finals, whatever you wanna call it," he clarified. "I guess I should know what it's called first."

The biggest hit: fighters, and biters

Fighters got a lot of attention -- particularly former wrestling bad boy Iron Sheik, who wanted to remind Page 2 that "the Iron Sheik is original champion, and Hulk Hogan is sissy boy." (Keep being crazy, Sheik.) Meanwhile, Mike Tyson had everyone talking, and not always in a good way. "I tried to stay as far away from him as possible," Blake Griffin said. Not so lucky? Evander Holyfield, who gracefully chatted with the dude who famously bit his ear. "Be nice," Holyfield figured. "You can never be too nice to people."

No gift bag for you, Tim

Among the free stuff in the ESPYS gift bag: iHome products, Simmons jewelry ("Definitely my No. 1 thing," said swimmer Cullen Jones), Wynn Casino gift cards and Patrón tequila. "Two years in a row, I get to look at all the cool stuff in there but I can't take any of it," said underclassman Tim Tebow. "When I was deciding whether to stay [at Florida] or go [to the NFL], the ESPYS gift bag was on the list for going pro -- at about No. 112."

Athletes avoiding awkwardness

Among the more surprising no-shows (and the rumored reasons we overheard): Lamar Odom, who digs red-carpet events but didn't wish to address his contract negotiations; Tony Romo, who was in L.A. but maybe didn't want to talk about his breakups with Jessica Simpson and Terrell Owens; and LeBron James, who didn't want to address getting dunked on by a kid and freaking out about it afterwards.

[+] EnlargeGina Carano
Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagicGina Carano, our new favorite MMA competitor.

A quick timeout for a fashion report

Kevin Durant said, "This was my first time wearing sunglasses out in public," which we thought was weird. Mixed martial arts' leading lady, Gina Carano, was looking mighty fine in an elegant black number ("It feels good to step out like this, looking like a girl for once since I spend most of my life looking like a 12-year-old boy"). Then there was the Vikings' Jared Allen, who came dressed in an honest-to-goodness cowboy costume. "I told my tailor, 'Give me the opening scene with Burt Reynolds from the original "Longest Yard",' and fortunately she knew exactly what I was talking about," he said. "I know the ladies will love it. I'm like the ugly dog at the pound. The ladies pass by, but then they come back because I'm so cute and cuddly." (We don't hand out awards, but we'll let a certain ESPY nominee do it: "Can't you just write that I, Sacha Kljestan, was the best-dressed at the ESPYS?" pleaded the Team USA soccer player.)

The last to arrive award …

Goes to former Playmate Kendra Wilkinson and her less-famous hubby, Eagles wide receiver Hank Baskett, who acknowledged that "people don't really know my face, but everybody knows Kendra." Not the security guy though. He held the couple outside the auditorium until the first commercial break, which might have been a good thing because Wilkinson, who is pregnant, isn't feeling well. "I don't think I'm going to puke," she said. "I might fart, though. I'm not joking. That's why I have the long dress on."

The most-well-represented athlete species

Pretty-boy quarterbacks. Among them: Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Tebow, Stafford, Jesse Palmer and Mark Sanchez, who quipped backstage that he's often mistaken for Kelly Ripa's husband, Mark Consuelos, but "now I just say I'm Vince from 'Entourage.'"

Sam Alipour is based in Los Angeles. His Media Blitz column appears regularly in ESPN The Magazine. You can reach him at sam.alipour@gmail.com. Mary Buckheit is a Page 2 columnist. She can be reached at marybuckheit@hotmail.com.

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