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THE WRITING ON (AND OFF) THE WALL: ESPYS IN VEGAS PERFECT FIT.

Byline: Tom Hoffarth

LAS VEGAS -- The videoscreens outside thE MGM Grand are selling tonight's ESPY Awards as "the greatest night in sports." For sure, it's an event that attracts the greatest gathering of superstar athletes in one place.

Why?

Mike Piazza, in town anyway to show off in a home-run-hitting contest with McGwire, Canseco, Palmiero, ARod and Dodgers newcomer Shawn Green, didn't need any coaxing to stay an extra night to attend the ESPYs, where he'll be hanging out with new Mets teammate Todd Zeile.

"All they had to tell me was be in Vegas," said Piazza.

"I said I'd do it."

It's not for the "boy-lesque" shows.

At least Piazza says what the others probably don't want to -- that the city is the real star attraction. And when you've got Monopoly money coming out of your billfold, any excuse to come to the Nevada desert is valid.

Which is why the MLBPA, not Major League Baseball, sponsored the home run event (to be aired next month on ESPN2). MLB can't gamble on its reputation.

And it's why ESPN, which held the first seven of these behind the barbed wire of New York, has moved it right across the street from the New York, New York Hotel & Casino on da Strip. . . .

--For those who can't stomach another ego-gratifyin', tux-rentin' statue-cradlin' awards presentation, you'll miss such cut-up skits as Dickie V opening the show as an Elvis impersonator and Kurt Bevacqua being honored by Dan Patrick as the century's 29,104th-greatest athlete, with testimonials from George Will, Bob Costas and Joe Garagiola. . . .

--ESPY celeb host Jimmy Smits won't be killed off, a la Bobby Simone, during the course of the telecast. He may only wish. . . .

--Smits plays the role of a trainer in "Price of Glory," the next boxing movie to elbow for attention this spring. Carlos Palomino is the flick's technical advisor and Smits did research on his character by attending Silver Gloves bouts around L.A. . . .

--Smits says he recently received his Lakers season tickets, which will "finally legitimize me as a Los Angeles resident."

Don't go celeb scoping for him in Nicholson's neighborhood. "My seats are in the citizens' section," he said. . . .

--Couldn't help but notice under those blazin' Staple Center heat lamps that Coo-coo Jack was back to being slurped like a courtside snowcone by Lara F. Boyle during the two Lakers games last week. The tabs had reported a recent messy breakup -- Nicholson supposedly went gonzo upon finding out the fledgling actress returned all his Christmas gifts for cash. . . .

--Billy Crystal wants to direct a movie called "Home Run Race '61," an HBO project about the friendship between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle during the 1961 season, reports Daily Variety. . . .

--Pretend pro beach volleyball star Gabby Reece has committed to remodeling -- she will train for a year to see if she can become a pro golfer. . . .

--Latest MGM odds on the Cincinnati Reds winning the 2000 World Series just dropped from 20 to 1 to a Griffey-inspired 12 to 1. The Dodgers, who opened at 30 to 1 in October, are now 18 to 1. . . .

SURFING THE TUBE

TODAY

With the NBA trade deadline near, the Clippers have sent scouts to New York. Not to look at the Knicks. The thought is that there has to be a few prized nuts at Madison Square Garden willing to sign for the league minimum. 124th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, USA Network, 8 p.m. (Also Tuesday at 8 p.m.)

TUESDAY

It's reunion week for the Lakers, who start a telling six-game road trip right after the All-Star break. Today, Phil Jackson returns to Chicago. Wednesday, Hornets' Eddie Jones finally plays against his former teammates. Friday, Shaq is back at Disney World, and Sunday, Kobe has a homecoming in Philly. NBA: Lakers at Chicago, Channel 9, TNT, 5 p.m. (Also: KCAL has 1 1/2-hour tape delay of the Lakers' games at Charlotte on Wednesday and Orlando on Friday, both at 6 p.m., and NBC has their game at Philadelphia Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

WEDNESDAY

To understand what happened to former New York Knicks guard Micheal Ray Richardson (pictured), it's best to first know who he was, kids. A three-time All-Big Sky player at the University of Montana, he was drafted No. 4 overall by the Knicks in 1978 and touted as the next Walt Frazier. They kept him four seasons. Golden State had him for half a season. The New Jersey Nets had him another three, until this four-time NBA All-Star career's crashed and burned - he became the first slapped with a lifetime ban in 1986 for drug use. An hourlong TNT documentary narrated by Chris Rock fills in the details over the last 14 years. Here's a hint that there's a nice ending: The show is produced by NBA Entertainment. ``Whatever Happened to Micheal Ray?'' TNT, 10 p.m. (replays at 1 a.m. and Friday at 1:30 a.m.)

THURSDAY

Is it too late? NCAA basketball: USC at Arizona, FSN, 7:30 p.m.

FRIDAY

Why the U.S. isn't represented in the America's Cup for the first time ever: We sent Clipper ships to the semis. America's Cup best-of-nine final, Race 1, ESPN, 7 p.m. (Also: Race 2 Saturday at 7 p.m.)

SATURDAY

It is too late, isn't it? NCAA basketball: UCLA at Arizona, Channel 7, 12:30 p.m.

SUNDAY

Getting back to that Westminster Kennel Club again - remember the name of the family dog on ``The Brady Bunch''? PGA: Nissan Open golf tournament, final round, Channel 2, noon. (CBS also has third-round coverage live at noon Saturday as well as first- and second-round late-night highlight shows at 12:35 a.m. Thusday and Friday. USA Network has tape-delayed coverage of the first two rounds Thursday and Friday at 4 p.m.)

TOP SHELF

WHEN THE GLORIOUS END JUSTIFIES THE MEANS

--Book title: ``It Ain't Over 'Til The Fat Lady Sings: The 100 Greatest Sports Finishes of All Time''

--Author: Howard G. Peretz (with event text by Phil Berger)

--Find it: Barnes & Noble Books, $14.98, 224 pages, also available at www.fatladysings.com.

--I did not know that: Peretz actually owns the ``Fat Lady Sings'' phrase as a registered trademark.

--The game plan: Peretz writes that his initial research into this project was fruitless - he found hardly any material. Sounds preposterious. So in starting his own, he pegged 176 events, then cut them down to 100 by a criteria he devised and explains in the opening chapter. For example, the book does include the 1980 Miracle on Ice, but it excludes the New York Jets' Super Bowl win over Baltimore because, while it might have been an upset, the outcome was not continually in doubt.

--The execution: Great to the last page. Peretz sorts the events into categories rather than create controversy by ranking them as others would do. Kirk Gibson's 1988 World Series homer for the Dodgers is one of 10 events in Chapter 1: ``Victories Snatched From the Jaws of Defeat,'' as is Magic Johnson's 1980 NBA Finals Game 6 performance for the Lakers. UCLA's 88-game basketball streak snapped by Notre Dame in 1974 is in Chapter 2: ``Buzzer Beaters.'' Chapter 4's ``Comebacks'' has the Angels' loss to Boston in the 1986 ALCS Game 5 along with ``The Drive'' by Denver's John Elway in the 1987 AFC title game. But Chapter 8's ``Fluke Finishes'' might be the most enjoyable read, uncovering several events that seem to have slipped through the cracks of history and aren't often revisited.

Peretz indicates there will be a follow-up book, so you gotta believe Tiger Woods' finish at Pebble Beach and Super Bowl XXXIV will be given strong consideration for Year 2000 events and beyond.

--Bathroom reading rating (on the scale of 1 to 10): 8 (coulda been more, but the darn book is so big and bulky, it's not easy to handle).

- Tom Hoffarth

CYBERSPORT

IN A RUSH TO DUNK, THE MUSTARD'S OFF THE DOG

Maybe you've seen the logo tacked onto telephone poles around town - a circle divided into four, with a peace sign, heart, lightning bolt and another circle.

It's the brand for a site known as dunk.net, but beyond that, we're not really sure what it has to offer, why it exists, or what's the point.

Shaquille O'Neal, Mike Piazza and Rebecca Lobo seem to be associated somehow, but who knows in what capacity?

The ``What's Dunk'' link offers a meager explanation: This site ``empowers athletes to gain the highest level of achievement by providing them with apparel and footwear that blends style with the latest in high-performance technology,'' which leads to the creation of a ``Dunk culture.''

(By the way, when was the last time you saw Piazza rattle the rim?)

Apparently, it's a store. But click onto the store link to see what empowering footware is available, and it says it's ``coming soon.''

Which should be a lesson to those thinking about getting in the Web business: Isn't it better to launch a site when it's ready rather than start advertising it when it's barely half completed? Who's ever going back?

--Another star-athlete-affected site that's been getting plenty of publicity lately is an online auction destination called Ultimatebid.com. Here, winning bidders get such things as a day at spring training and dinner with Derek Jeter or a round of golf at Bay Hill Country Club with Arnold Palmer. Expect the bidding to reach at least $4,000 on each. Bids on hanging out with SI swimsuit model Heidi Klum for a day in New York already is past $6,000.

--If a round of golf at Riviera Country Club sounds more appealing in either the pro-am ($3,750 a person) or celebrity-am ($1,875) this week leading up to the Nissan Open, they seem to be available on the tournament's official site (nissanopen.com).

Also keep bookmarked the PGA Tour's official site (PGATour.com) for real-time scores during the tournament starting Thursday. TV coverage the first two days is on tape-delay.

--The NHL today is expected to announce that it will buy out Internet partner IBM for nearly $10 million and begin to take its official site (nhl.com) in-house so it can have more of a hands-on control over its future, which will someday expand to more live video feed and broadcasting games over the Web.

- Tom Hoffarth

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

Photo: Ex-NBA star Micheal Ray Richardson

Box: TV today
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 14, 2000
Words:1754
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