February 22, 2006
Everyone's waiting for May to buy in, but the Mavs look *really* good, starting post-ASG strong with 12th straight home W (over LAC).
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

What makes an athlete "hot"?

Success in sports?
Sex appeal?
Widespread recognition?
Or maybe just good timing?

When Page 2's 2006 Hottest Athlete competition launched yesterday, I was sure Maria Sharapova would win in a rout.

Last year, she was like LeBron James as a junior in high school: She would have been everyone's top pick -- if she was old enough. Now that she's 18, I figured her Hottest Female Athlete title was the biggest lock in sports.

Sorry to bastardize the No. 1 moment in the history of U.S. sports, but it seems fitting this Olympic season:

There's been a miracle on the ice!

Tanith Belbin is leading the vote after day one. Coming off of her eye-opening silver medal performance in Monday's Olympic ice dancing final, Belbin has catapulted to hottie stardom.

She leads Maria by a slim margin (31 percent to 30 percent of the overall vote total), but it's still a lead.

(Is it Belbin herself or her timing? I would have been interested to see where Danica Patrick would have rated if we had run this poll back during the height of Danica Mania last summer. Right now, Danica is a distant 5th, with only 4.5 percent of the total vote.)

Sharapova is still my favorite to win. But it directly refutes the critics who think the Olympics have fallen off a cliff of relevancy.

At least in one way, Belbin's surprise lead shows the power of the Olympics to springboard an unknown athlete to the top of the A-list in little more than a week.

Francis to Knicks?
Francis to Knicks? Let's just call it "Isiah Being Isiah." He could replace one position-less, expensive, shoot-first guard with ...

A position-less, expensive, shoot-first guard! (Funny how that works, isn't it?) Shipping out Jamal Crawford is a nice admission that his high-profile acquisition two years ago was a dud.

Meanwhile, we've got to come up with a name for the Marbury-Francis backcourt. How about "Frarbury" "Trouble"?

From Suns to Raps? Meanwhile, Suns GM (and reigning NBA Exec of the Year) Bryan Colangelo is rumored to be leaving Phoenix for ... Toronto?!

Why would he go from a contender he built nearly from scratch to one of the NBA's biggest dogs? The answer is easy: Money and power.

The most interesting contrast will be to see how quickly he turns the Raptors from a dud to competitive, while Isiah continues to flounder.

Cohen Starts Strong
Shaun White and the snowboarders are cool -- the surprise hit of these Olympics. But nothing tops the women's figure skaters as a draw. (Well, maybe "American Idol," but that's another story. Go Paris!)

After the early Kwan drama, it was a thrill to see Sasha Cohen live up to her hype, scoring the highest in the short program. She's been a recluse, but maybe that's the way to go. (Cough! Bode!)

Enrico Fabris: Forget Shani or Chad. Italian skater rules
Michigan: Bolsters NCAA resume with huge win over Illinois
NASCAR: Daytona 500 sets record for most-watched race
"Illegal methods": New euphemism for Austrian OLY cheat
Clemens to Rangers: Owner Hicks not bullish on landing him
Wally Szczerbiak: Celtics SF carried from the court (knee)
But the other pleasant surprise was the U.S. bench: Kimmie Meissner's fifth-place finish and Kwan's replacement, Emily "Sister of Sarah" Hughes, finished seventh heading into Thursday's final.

You don't have to be an expert to see that Cohen is very sharp on the ice. But the best part was how happy she looked immediately after her routine. A little joy goes a long way with fans.

On the flip side...

Shani vs. Chad
Wheaties Watch? Hardly. I'm not sure that rival U.S. speedskaters Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick would make for a happy Wheaties box. Maybe "Cuckoo!" for Cocoa Puffs.

After both lost the gold in the 1,500m (Davis won silver; Hedrick bronze), their press conference was full of bitterness and sniping at each other.

Ah, nothing oozes Olympic spirit like antipathy. And they're teammates! Some people are trying to pick a winner in their fight, but they should both be embarrassed.

MLB Spring Fun!
Let's rate MLB's offseason malcontents by their contrition upon return to their teams for spring training:

(1) Miguel Tejada, who had floated the idea that he wants out of Baltimore:

"I felt really embarrassed, because I'm not that kind of man. I'm not the kind of person that makes some trouble. Everything is over. Everything is straight," Tejada said. "I feel a little upset, people telling me that I don't love the players. I love the players, I love the team, I love everybody here. Everybody knows I made a mistake."

Miggy's spring vibe: contrite.

(2) Bobby Abreu, who was reportedly unhappy to be the subject of constant trade rumors (or so everyone thought):

"That's not true. I never said that. I don't have to talk about being mad or something like that, because the Phillies have been so good to me in the eight years I was here. I'm happy with the organization."

Bobby's spring vibe: denial.

(3) Manny Ramirez, who made no attempt to hide his dissatisfaction with the Red Sox or his interest in being traded:

No comment. (Oh, wait: The Red Sox gave their least happy player permission to report late to camp. Nothing helps the chemistry of a roster full of new players like special treatment for petulant stars.)

Manny's spring vibe: defiant.

Sports Integrity?
In light of the rumors that Sweden's Olympic hockey team was planning to throw its game Tuesday against Slovakia to get a better medal-round draw, let's review the spectrum of when it's cool (or not) to throw games:

Widely accepted: avoid injury
See Week 16 of the NFL, when teams that have clinched playoff spots play the bucket boys to avoid hurting starters. No one seems to mind.

Very accepted: draft status
Ask the Cavs fans if they mind that their team stank to ensure the best possible chance to land LeBron. If you told me my team would go 0-82 next season, but we'd get to draft Greg Oden in 2007, then I'd say you have a deal.

Moderately accepted: seedings
As long as your team is going to make the playoffs, why not manipulate the result to avoid a tougher early-round playoff game? Hello! You play to win the game championship!

Not accepted: gambling
Losing a game in order to get rich off of gambling proceeds is right up there with lollygagging as the worst offense an athlete can commit.

(Postscript: We'll see whether it works for Sweden. In losing to Slovakia, they got the quarterfinal matchup they wanted, with the Swiss, arguably the weakest in the eight-team field.)

Wait: Is that still their name? MLB's team in D.C. screwed up the name rights process. What a great opportunity to put a new team name up for bidding!
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie: Live!
Hottest Female Athlete
Page 2 Index
Hottest Athlete Ballot
Maria Sharapova
The gold standard
Kristi Leskinen
Surprising 3rd so far
Swin Cash
9th place? Crazy.
Danica Patrick
Must jump to NASCAR
Sophie Sandolo
Is there a Page 2 Europe?

The 76ers aren't shopping A.I.? Bucher reports they briefly mulled shipping him to Denver for Earl Watson and Nene. Philly fans would have *freaked out.*

Darko's debut: New buzz cut! Only 2 pts in 4 min, but you'd be out of shape too if all you rode was pine. Hill says his minutes will increase.

NASCAR crackdown on cheating? Jimmie Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, was suspended for 3 more races after illegal D-500 tweaking. "Get tough" is good.

NFL tagging: Jets DE John Abraham got the franchise label. The Jets are spinning it positively; Abraham can't be happy. Will they trade him?

MLB '07 Hot Stove: Don't look for Gary Sheffield on the 2007 free agency list; the Yankees are expected to pick up his 2007 option.

76ers fans can trade in their guns for game tickets at local police stations. You just know some fans will bring their guns to the arena box office.

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