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July 31, 2015

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

from the press box:

Ray Brewer: Jerry Tarkanian enjoys final victory with selection for Hall of Fame

Image

Charlie Neibergall / AP

Former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, front, sits in front of fellow inductees during the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class announcement, Monday, April 8, 2013, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Jerry Tarkanian

UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, right, awaits proceedings in district court Thursday, Sept. 7, 1977, as his lawyer Samuel Lionel prepares for a hearing to block the university's bid to remove Tarkanian from his position in compliance with an NCAA ultimatum. Launch slideshow »

This doesn’t validate Jerry Tarkanian’s career.

He’d already taken care of that, because his contributions to the game have long spoken for themselves.

Sure, having the title Hall of Famer before a coach’s name is an extraordinary honor and one some strive for as the crowning achievement of their contributions to sport.

Tarkanian, the godfather of UNLV basketball who coached the Rebels to four Final Four appearances and the 1990 national title, was officially announced Monday for induction for Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in September. It’s about time, right, Las Vegas?

For us in Southern Nevada, he was already a legend and had long established his place in basketball history as one of the best teachers of the game, one who took pride in having success with rough-around-the-edges players. Talk with those closest to him and they’ll confirm he was also one of the great men of the game because he gave inner-city players a chance when other coaches passed.

Monday’s announcement was one last victory for the aging coach. He’s 82 and not in the best of health, but he still loves UNLV basketball and continues to bring positive attention to the great things happening on Maryland Parkway. The UNLV brand, after some particularly dark times, is nudging its way back to the same relevance it enjoyed during the glory years under Tarkanian in the early 1990s, and having Tarkanian in the spotlight more than 30 years later is another reminder of the program’s great tradition.

Tarkanian was one of the stars of the 12-person class, needing help onto the stage when his name was announced during a ceremony in Atlanta hours before national title game and causing some in the room to tear up. Watching at home on television and trying to explain to my young son what was happening, I also couldn’t help tearing up.

Like the majority of the UNLV program’s diehard fans, I grew up in Las Vegas in a day and age when Rebel basketball was the only show in town. We packed the Thomas & Mack Center with more than 18,000 fans in the middle of the week for games against the likes of Cal-State Fullerton and Pacific, because Tark built such high-flying, star-studded teams we didn’t want to miss one 3-pointer or slam dunk. And we definitely didn’t want to miss Tark chewing on his towel.

He gave this city a winning basketball team and, in return, the followers of the scarlet and gray will be forever grateful. They were the ones who were vocal on message boards and in the social media, urging that Tark get his due, and deserve part of the credit for the achievement. He was passed over for the Hall for years because of his many ugly battles with the NCAA, but old grudges can’t be held forever.

It was a downright shame it took so long. The ceremony is Sept. 8 in Springfield, Mass., and Tarkanian will deliver a speech, which because of his poor health, likely won’t be as entertaining and colorful as it could have been if the honor would have come earlier. Maybe that was for the best — Tarkanian is no longer vocal about the NCAA interfering with his career, and the induction ceremony needs to be about Tarkanian’s successes on the court, not his battles in the courtroom.

It’s sad watching him deteriorate and need assistance to walk. When interviewed during the announcement, he was so soft-spoken you could barely hear him, and he looked frail. It’s not how supporters would like to remember him.

Rather, he should be remembered for leading UNLV to three Final Fours in five seasons starting in 1987, always championing the athlete who was often overlooked because he came from a rough neighborhood and for teams that played an exciting brand of basketball.

The Runnin’ Rebels under Tarkanian’s watch were just like their coach — legendary.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or ray.brewer@lasvegassun.com. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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