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What: ESPN the Magazine.

Price: $2.99

With the ESPN name on this new biweekly magazine that made its debut last week, it figured to be impressive. And in some ways it is. The writing and photography are good. But there are problems too. For one thing, it is too big. The 10 x 12 format--the size of Rolling Stone magazine, as opposed the easier to handle 8 x 11 Sports Illustrated size, makes the magazine difficult to read while in bed, on a couch or on a john, where most sports fans do their reading. And it is too thick--185 pages are way too many. ESPN is asking too much of a young, hip, fast generation, one not known for long attention spans. Also, there are far too many ads.

And some are hard to tell from the articles. The ads are artsy, just like the story layouts. Sometimes you wonder who is publishing this magazine, ESPN or Nike. The cover definitely has that Nike look, which isn't good. It seems ESPN could have done better. The cover, if you haven't seen it, has black-and-white photos of four budding superstars, Kobe Bryant, Kordell Stewart, Alex Rodriguez and Eric Lindros. The headline simply says, "NEXT."

You can imagine the folks over at Sports Illustrated, where the cover headlines almost always show imagination and cleverness, having a good laugh over ESPN the Magazine's first cover.

Of course, editor in chief John Papanek defends the cover. "Our cover says it all. The magazine is about looking ahead and speaking to a new generation of sports fans," he says.

In his first Editor's Note piece for the magazine, Papanek writes, "We are not all nude, or even close. No swimsuits, no bikinis, no one-pieces, no thongs--none of that. No rehashes, no game stories, no press-box pontificating, no wistful reminiscences about the good old days--none of that, either. We are not your father's sports magazine."

Maybe Papanek and his staff are trying too hard not to be Sports Illustrated.

OK, some good points. The article Bob Knight did with Dick Schaap, "What I Hate About the Game I Love," is a good one. Knight's No. 1 complaint: Get rid of the basketball bennies who run summer teams. He writes that there are guys "who don't know anything about the game, who don't understand roles and teamwork, who let the kids play any way they want and develop bad habits."

An even-handed Latrell Sprewell profile by Donnell Alexander and Shaun Assael provides some additional insight into the troubled basketball player.

The one newsworthy story, which is dealt with in a one-page segment called "This Just In," tells the story of Connecticut's Nykesha Sales and her artificially created school scoring record. As most people know, the injured player made an arranged, uncontested basket against Villanova on Feb. 24 to get the record. The twist of this article, though, is that she was credited with a basket she didn't make in an earlier game, so technically she didn't really set the record with her infamous shot on Feb. 24.

The problem here is, ESPN and ESPNEWS, in an effort to promote the magazine, played this as a major story when it wasn't much of a story because the record stood. Another problem was ESPN, if this indeed had been a big story, was scooping its own magazine.

Maybe it's too early to be critical, but we're not canceling our Sports Illustrated subscription just yet.

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