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September 17, 2014

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Andre Agassi, Dana White steal the show at Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame induction

Icons talk about the passion for Las Vegas; share joy in being selected for induction

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Inductees Andre Agassi, left, and Dana White talk during the induction ceremony for the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame at the Orleans Arena Friday, May 31, 2013, at the Orleans Arena.

2013 Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame

Inductee Dana White delivers his speech during the induction ceremony for the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame Friday, May 31, 2013, at the Orleans Arena. Launch slideshow »

Dana White frequently passes at opportunities to get nostalgic.

The UFC president is constantly asked to reminisce about the early days of operating the mixed martial arts organization, and how he helped transform it into a multimillion dollar league and the world’s fastest growing sport.

White could easily talk about difficult days when the organization was operating at a deficit of $44 million and how some viewed the sport as barbaric. Times quickly changed, however, with White leading the effort.

Friday, he was inducted at the Orleans Arena into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame, being honored for growing the UFC — and doing so with a home base in Southern Nevada.

White typically doesn’t reminisce, believing it leads to becoming content in what’s already accomplished. Friday was different. Friday was a time to cherish the great works.

White is often outspoken and brash as a promoter; it makes him an obvious choice to receive accolades. That’s far from the truth, he told the audience. White said being inducted into the hall, just like developing the UFC brand, was a team effort.

“I’m sick of the Dana White show,” he said. “One person doesn’t do anything.”

White did have a good idea.

He sold brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta on the idea of buying the struggling UFC in the early 2000s for $2 million and never wavered on his plans for the league when it was stuck in neutral.

Some 12 years later, the UFC brings more than $725 million annually to the Las Vegas economy — a point Lorenzo Fertitta stressed while introducing White. Fertitta said nobody has had a bigger impact on Las Vegas sports the past 12 years -- White helped bring major sports to an area with no major sports team.

“The UFC has assumed the role of Las Vegas’ home team,” Fertitta said.

There is more to White than UFC promoter.

He’s a proud Las Vegan and embraces the role as being one of the city’s ambassadors through the UFC. He’s widely popular with fans and easily approachable. And he donates to several charities, never looking for recognition for acts such as hosting a sick child during a fight week in Anaheim with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

White did more than most Make-A-Wish outings, involving the child in a weekend of fight promotions and time behind the scenes, later taking him to Disneyland.

“He’s never turned down an autograph or a picture. And he never turned down a charitable cause,” Fertitta said.

White wasn’t the only inductee with a powerful speech.

Tennis champion Andre Agassi delivered what several say was one of the best speeches since the Hall debuted in 1997, talking about how his father instilled a strong work ethic and sharing stories of his childhood in Las Vegas. His father worked two jobs in the service industry and once received a $500 tip from Frank Sinatra.

Through tips from his job on the Strip, the family relied on the generosity of others to survive. Agassi has paid it forward in his post-tennis life with Agassi Prep, the tuition-free public charter school he founded in 2001 on West Lake Mead Boulevard in one of Southern Nevada’s most at-risk neighborhoods.

He plans to follow the model of the Las Vegas school to develop 75 others serving 40,000 students throughout the nation over the next three or four years.

-- Las Vegas Motor Speedway president Chris Powell was inducted, sharing the honor with his staff at the speedway. Since Powell arrived in Las Vegas in the late 1990s, the speedway has brought $2.5 billion to Las Vegas.

-- Pat Christensen, the president of Las Vegas Events, was one of the key organizers in helping build the Thomas & Mack Center in 1983. With Las Vegas Events, he’s instrumental in keeping events such as the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. He was a NCAA wrestling champion at Wisconsin.

-- Former Valley High School basketball coach Bill Bobier, who died in 2001, was inducted posthumously. He coached Valley to four state titles and was presented by UNLV great Freddie Banks, who was part of three of Bobier’s title teams at Valley.

-- Golfer Stephanie Louden, a four-time All-American at Stanford and three-time state champion at Cimarron-Memorial High, was also inducted. She’s played on the LPGA tour the past 11 years.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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