Replacing an icon is never easy. For Paul Sunderland, at least it's temporary.

The LA-based sportscaster, who has contracts with Fox and NBC, is familiar to Pacific-10 Conference and NBA fans for his play-by-play and courtside work in recent years. He has been sitting in for the legendary Chick Hearn since the Los Angeles Lakers' broadcaster underwent open-heart surgery Dec. 19.

'It's the greatest job anyone could imagine, even if it's part time,' Sunderland says. 'And believe me, I know it is part time.'

Hearn, 85, ended a 36-year streak of working 3,338 consecutive games. He is recuperating nicely and hopes to be back in the booth by early February. When the Chickster gets old he may retire, but not yet.

Sunderland's name is familiar to longtime Oregon fans, who recall he was a 6-5 reserve swing man for Dick Harter's Ducks in 1971-72. Sunderland transferred to Loyola-Marymount after his sophomore year to focus on another sport Ñ volleyball Ñ and wound up a three-time Olympian and a member of the U.S. gold medal team in 1984.

'I loved Eugene, loved the school, loved everything about the Northwest,' Sunderland says. 'Still do. I always enjoy going back.'

• Sports Illustrated's Letters-to-the-editor section this week will be full of comments from readers about Jon Wertheim's article on the Trail Blazer franchise last month. The magazine received 110 e-mails and letters on the subject. 'We always try to run letters in proportion to the response,' says Doug Goodman, SI's news bureau manager. 'In this case, the response was overwhelmingly anti-Blazer and supportive of the story.'

One response that SI chose not to publish came from Blazer guard Steve Kerr, who told the Tribune: 'Basically, I said if our team stinks, feel free to rip us, but don't rip us for having a Christmas party that gives 1,000 trees to underprivileged people, for hosting 500 kids for a pancake breakfast where we're singing Christmas carols. They took two pictures (of players looking disinterested) and put them in the magazine. All of those guys were a big part of the whole program, singing with kids, interacting. Don't use a Christmas party and some misleading pictures as a metaphor for our supposed lack of communication with the fans. The opposite was true that day. In my 14 years in the league, it was one of the nicest events I have been a part of. It was really genuine.'

• The coach of the Trail Blazers was included in a tongue-in-Cheeks feature in the latest ESPN The Magazine, and readers had to dig deep to find the humor.

Sports personalities in the news, including Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, were supposedly asked what they saw in one of a series of inkblots. Maurice Cheeks' response: 'Animals consuming each other.' Bellotti's: 'Al Gore.' Get it? Cheeks presiding over the Trail Blazer zoo; Bellotti's Ducks finishing No. 2. I'm all for satire, but that's a bit of a stretch and a waste of a page of newsprint.

• Jack Cain, who ran the Class-A Rockies for 20 years in Bend and Portland, has been seen around the Beavers' office in recent weeks. Word is, he will serve as special assistant to the president, giving civic club talks and helping with season ticket sales. Cain has been in retirement in Vancouver, Wash., since his last year with the Rockies in 1999. It's good having him back in baseball.

• Ex-Winter Hawk Byron Dafoe's first NHL fight was a doozy last week. The veteran Boston goalie skated the length of the ice to confront Ottawa's goalie, Patrick Lalime, who had stepped in to double-team a Bruin during a third-period line brawl. Dafoe got the best of his counterpart, and both were ejected.

Dafoe: 'I had no intention of going at it. He said, 'You want to go?' I said, 'Not really.' But he started shaking his gloves and that let me know he wanted to go at it. That's not part of my repertoire. I'm glad I got kicked out. I don't know if I could have played the last few minutes, because I was pretty tired.'

• Plans continue for the expansion of Oregon State's Reser Stadium, with about 10,000 more seats (to a capacity of 45,000), cover for the north side and addition of suites, skyboxes and upgrade of Valley Center to take place in stages over the next three years. Architects have been hired, feasibility studies are nearly complete, and Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart says results will be available in the coming weeks.

Barnhart says fund raising for a $10 million annex to Gill Coliseum, with a practice basketball court, locker and weight rooms, coaching offices and other amenities, is about two-thirds completed. Ex-Beaver great Gary Payton has pledged $3 million to the project.

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