Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012 | 2 a.m.
When an opposing player steps to the line at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center, he’s intent on one task: Focus on the rim and make the free throw.
And then he’s confronted with a sea of bobbing, oversized heads of Vegas celebrities.
This would be the work of the UNLV student section, which calls itself “The Rebellion” and is armed with larger-than-life foam cutouts of recognizable Vegas faces.
Among them: Strip performer and former Playboy Playmate Holly Madison, UNLV alumnus and late-night television host Jimmy Kimmel, Rat Packer and Strip legend Frank Sinatra, boxer and Henderson resident Mike Tyson, “Pawn Stars” cast member Austin “Chumlee” Russell, a Blue Man, former Rebels all-American Larry Johnson, coach Dave Rice and former coach Jerry Tarkanian.
The heady distractions were adopted this season by the UNLV students, who wanted to do more than just offer traditional jeers and cheers. Granted, the students were inspired by the oversized head cutouts used on other campuses.
But this being the Thomas & Mack — in Las Vegas, the Entertainment Capital of the World — waving any old face won’t do.
“A lot of the cutouts at other schools don’t really have a context to what the school or the city that they are in represent,” explained UNLV junior Alex Salvo, an organizer of The Rebellion. “What we’re doing with our cutouts is making them relevant to what Las Vegas is all about.”
The king of the cutouts: a 15-foot-by-9-foot head-and-torso cutout of Rebels sophomore Mike “Mozilla” Moser, complete with movable arms, that cost almost $1,000.
“The fans really get a kick out of that,” Salvo said.
The group has gained attention from celebrities it has showcased in the stands. Henderson resident Flavor Flav has autographed the foam cutout that depicts his face and frequently sits in the student section.
The Rebellion credits the big head phenomenon to rival San Diego State University, where it is believed the oversized cutouts were first used.
Longing for a unified student section, Salvo, fellow student Ben Leavitt and other friends created The Rebellion in January, just before the UNLV-New Mexico game at the Thomas & Mack. The Rebellion’s Twitter page got 700 followers in its first 24 hours. With the motto, “For the, by the, and of the students,” Leavitt said the group’s goal is to support the school's basketball team.
Freshman Jordana Janjua, who tries to make it to every home game, joined The Rebellion the first day it was created.
“The atmosphere here is just really insane; everyone really comes together,” Janjua said. “Growing up living here, (UNLV) is pretty much our only sports-oriented thing.”
Before each home game, Leavitt and members of The Rebellion place fliers throughout the student section. On those fliers are game-specific chants and cheers, along with reminders encouraging fans to “BE LOUD THE ENTIRE GAME!!!”
“I feel like we’re unifying the student section. … Everyone is enjoying it,” Leavitt said. “We’ve talked to all the players. They say it helps them out, and they feed off of our energy.”
The Rebellion is responsible for more than 100 cutouts, most costing about $100 to $150, at any given home game. The cutouts have gotten so popular, some have been stolen. It’s forced Salvo and Leavitt to start an inventory and checkout system, where students trade their student ID or driver’s license to be able to hold a cutout during a game.
The Rebellion also supplies hundreds of fans in the student section with oversized signature Rebel mustaches to help distract members of opposing teams.
The students partnered with Rebel Swag, UNLV’s apparel shop, to brainstorm their ideas for the cutouts.
Rebel Swag owner Brian Schaff said a group of about 75 students and alumni spearheaded the project and put up the money for the big heads.
“It’s all for the students; we’ve just helped where we could,” Schaff said. “They come up with the ideas.”
The Rebellion also has a PayPal site linked to its Twitter page so fans can donate.
Leavitt, a freshman, hopes to keep the momentum and spirit alive.
“It’s a lot of work, a lot of preparation,” Leavitt said. “We’re hoping that this can be a lasting thing. Every year we’ll have new freshmen and people from every class involved.”