Anaheim, Calif. — Nick Collison's mythical bird can beat up Walt Disney's mouse.
"Easily," Collison said last week, upon earning a trip to Anaheim, best known as Mickey Mouse's stomping grounds. "The 'Hawk can do more. He's changed a lot. When he first started, he looked totally different than he does now. He was all thin, but he's had like eight changes. He's definitely the one. He's been through more. He's definitely the better mascot."
Don't go thinking that Collison is off looking for a fight. It's just that the senior forward and his teammates with Kansas University's basketball team are coming to Southern California for some tough competition in the West Regional of the NCAA Tournament.
Beat Duke Thursday night, and the Jayhawks would play either Arizona or Notre Dame Saturday for a trip to the Final Four in New Orleans and a shot at a national championship.
But to hear KU players tell it, if KU's Jayhawk were taking on the biggest name in town -- a mouse representing the world's largest entertainment company and working at its most popular theme parks -- the cartoon character wouldn't even be in the game.
And that's even though KU will play on Mickey's home court: the Arrowhead Pond, built for Disney's NHL team, the Mighty Ducks.
"Mickey Mouse is kind of effeminate -- you know, his voice -- so I'm going with the Jayhawk," said Keith Langford, a KU forward. "I'm just not a Mickey Mouse fan."
'I'm with Kansas'
But millions of other people are. The mouse with the big, black ears today reaches all over the world, having already conquered children's TV programming in the 1950s with the "Mickey Mouse Club," a show based on the original club that had more than 1 million members within three years of its formation in 1929.
Such popularity doesn't faze guard Kirk Hinrich.
"I'm with the Jayhawk," Hinrich said. "I'm with Kansas."
Forward Jeff Graves laughed as he considered the KU bird's place in the world of mascots. In his book, family plays a role.
"I never liked Mickey Mouse," said Graves, who considers siding with the Jayhawk a "no brainer." "There's the Jayhawk and Baby Jay, but there's no Mickey Mouse and baby Mickey Mouse. I don't like that."
Bryant Nash touts the Jayhawk's lineage for mascot strength. Donald Duck? Forget it. Try Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning, James Naismith and all the engineers, astronauts, corporate leaders and others who have graced Mount Oread.
"The Jayhawk, he's made up of powerful people," Nash said. "What does Mickey Mouse actually represent?"
Mickey's big eyes, bouncy step and constant smile simply are meant to entertain, Walt Disney once said.
"All we ever intended of him, or expected of him, was that he should continue to make people everywhere chuckle with him and at him," said Disney, whose first Mickey cartoon made its debut in 1928.
The Jayhawk, meanwhile, was born out of Kansas' struggle in the 1850s to remain a free state against slavery.
Free State fighters, known for their fierceness and determination, came to be known as Jayhawkers -- the name taken from the blue jay and its penchant for being a noisy, quarrelsome nest robber; and the sparrow hawk, a stealthy hunter.
Jeff Hawkins, a KU guard, just knows tough when he sees it.
"I like the way he handles himself," Hawkins said.
Collison knows the knock on the Jayhawk -- the smile and the yellow boots don't exactly inspire fear. Duke, after all, is represented by the Blue Devils.
But Collison still throws his weight behind the KU mascot.
"It's got a lot of tradition," he said. "I think Mickey Mouse does, too, but the 'Hawk has been through more -- been through a lot more, I think, than Mickey Mouse.
"Mickey Mouse -- people love to see him, and the kids love to see him, but the 'Hawk has been through his ups and downs. I think the 'Hawk can do more things."