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Celebrity Lounge

Actor/comedian Bernie Mac is one of America's most recognizable and revered television and film figures. The "Bernie Mac Show", based on the real-life experiences of the Chicago native, is one of the top-rated sitcoms on the air. The show has earned several prestigious honors, including Emmy and Peabody Awards, and he has won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series. Comedy Central recently named Bernie Mac one of the Greatest Stand-Up Comedians of All Time.

Bernie Mac is also a lifelong sports enthusiast, with deep emotional ties to the Bears and White Sox. So it is only natural that sports often play a central role in his career. His portrayal of self-centered fictional slugger Stan Ross in "Mr. 3000" earned him a Black Reel Award. The "Bernie Mac Show" now appears in nationwide syndication and is going strong in its fifth season. So when Fantasy Football became the subject of a recent episode, it not only was directly linked to Bernie Mac's great love of sports, it was also a salute to the popularity of the game from one of TV's biggest stars.

"I'm really on top of how popular fantasy football is and I keep monitoring it," Bernie Mac said. "I'm a big fan of football and so is everyone on my set. I wanted to show people the unique atmosphere of the sports pubs in Chicago, because there's nothing like them anywhere else. My son-in-law is always talking to me about fantasy football and trying to get me involved. I might start to play next year. I'm contemplating it. I already have a lot of knowledge about it."

In the episode, "Fantasy Football", which first aired on January 27, Bernie Mac takes his nephew, Jordan (Jeremy Suarez) to a sports bar/restaurant where the locals are forming a fantasy football league. Bernie and Jordan agree to share a team, but differ on strategy. Jordan quickly develops the natural style of a fantasy owner, crunching the numbers and recommending well-informed player moves. But Bernie Mac chooses to go with his heart and wants to stick with his favorite Bears. It's the classic fantasy dilemma facing the two new players. How do you separate your rooting interests from your fantasy strategy?

"It was really over the top and people loved it," Bernie Mac said. "We received a lot of letters from people on the East Coast and in the Midwest who loved it." Bears legend Dick Butkus appeared in the episode, giving Bernie Mac advice on how to tackle the disagreements with Jordan. "I wanted to put one of the past players on the show, because growing up, we always used to argue about who the best linebackers and running backs were."

Sports talk was a staple of Bernie Mac's youth. "Baseball was always one of my strong sports. I was always a White Sox fan, but I wasn't allowed to watch them in my house. My grandfather and my brother were diehard Cubs fans. It was crazy combat. We used to bump gums and talk stuff all the time at the dinner table. I would come in at five o'clock to eat and we would go at it. You had to know your facts. We'd talk about Roberto Clemente, Bobby Bonds and Bob Gibson."

When the White Sox won the World Series, Bernie Mac described it as "heaven" and the "Most joyful time of my life." It was his favorite moment as a sports fan since the Bears won Super Bowl XX. Now Bernie Mac is looking to add another major victory to his personal history: His first fantasy sports championship.

In addition to recognizing the popularity of fantasy football, Bernie Mac is also making the most of his first fantasy sports experience. He has been battling with ESPN's Bill Simmons at the top of the NBA Cares Celebrity Fantasy League since the season began. The two are currently tied at 19-2 and have been engaging in friendly trash talk on a regular basis. In his first season as a fantasy owner, Bernie Mac said he has instantly enjoyed the banter that brings back memories of those spirited family sports discussions at the dinner table. He has openly directed good-natured barbs at former NBA player Kenny Smith.

"I love it, because there is so much passion involved and it's a lot of fun," Bernie Mac said. "It has revived my heart again for sports. It's a thrill and reminiscent of the past with my family. Because the league is like a family unit. Sitting back and getting to act like a general manager is the luxurious part of it. Not everyone can make a good general manager."

Bernie Mac's deep knowledge of the NBA has been an instant asset. He came to the draft well prepared and instantly impressed the other owners. Actor Matthew Modine said Bernie Mac "picked off a lot of good players who he couldn't believe other people passed on." Bernie Mac said he came to the draft with a plan, anticipating when he would have to draft for certain categories.

"I couldn't believe some of the players I was getting. See, the average cat was like a kid who went for the glitter," Bernie Mac said. "They were like kids who had a sweet tooth. They wanted the guys who would have big games. I went for the cats that had good field goal percentages, and could rebound as well as score. I made sure I had solid bench players. I look at the schedule before I set my lineup."

Bernie Mac had the 10th and final pick of the first round, yet he was only too happy to nab Tim Duncan and Dwyane Wade with his first two back-to-back selections in the snake draft. "Once I got Wade and Duncan, I knew it was over." He also happily picked Richard Jefferson in the fourth round and Lamar Odom in the sixth. "I knew Kobe was going to be hogging the ball, but Odom would ultimately become more involved. I knew he would be a key part of the Lakers' playoff hunt." Bernie Mac also made an early-season trade for Luol Deng that has further helped him dominate most of the league.

Bernie Mac's team won its first nine games before suffering one of his two losses, both of which have come to Simmons. The ESPN writer also recently halted an eight-game Bernie Mac winning streak. Bernie Mac has his eyes firmly set on the championship, but knows he will have to beat Simmons to win it all. He did beat Simmons in the season opener, and is already looking forward to them meeting in the playoffs of the head-to-head league.

"It can't be anyone but Simmons and myself to decide it," Bernie Mac said. "It's going to be the sweetest feeling when I put my foot in his (behind). He's going down. I look forward to bragging about my winning team. Whoever wins the league should get a replica of the real NBA trophy."

Winning the league would mean that over $100,000 would be donated to the two charities Bernie Mac represents, the American Cancer Society and the Foundation for Sarcodosis Research. Both foundations have affected Bernie Mac deeply, as his mother died of cancer when he was 15 years old, and he announced last year that he has been battling sarcodosis since the 1980s. Sarcodosis in an inflammatory disease that often attacks the lungs.

"I saw my mother go, and I wish she was still here to see me," Bernie Mac said. " I saw what cancer can do, up close and personal. It would be heaven if I could help more people and contribute to research. I saw my mother stand up and fight. I also want to let people with sarcodosis know they are not doomed. We can make their lives better by educating more people on the disease."

Mac said when he wins the championship, he will not only be thrilled to help his charities, he will also have his own personal celebration. "I'm going to celebrate everything at once. The White Sox winning the World Series, beating them all in the league and another new season of my show plus the fact it went into syndication. I'm also going to celebrate becoming a grandfather. I'm going to fire up a big cigar. I'll be a black Red Auerbach. Then I'm going to pop open a Miller Genuine Draft. I haven't had an M.G.D. in awhile."