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Ron Kantowski:

Friends, fans mourn UNLV’s ‘Gondo’ at memorial service

Ex-teammates, colleagues recall stories of former Rebels star

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Sam Morris

UNLV announcer Dick Calvert speaks at a memorial for Glen “Gondo” Gondrezick Thursday, April 30, 2009 at the Thomas & Mack. Gondo, a 17-year radio and television analyst for UNLV, was a member of UNLV’s first Final Four team and a veteran of six seasons in the NBA. He died Monday from complications of a heart transplant.

Saying Goodbye to Gondo

With a mixture of laughter and tears, the UNLV family remembers one of its most loyal Rebels, Glen Gondrezick.

Gondo Memorial

Former teammate Robert Smith wipes away a tear while speaking at a memorial for Glen Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

The offseason ... so far

Ryan Greene and Rob Miech sit down after a brief hiatus to discuss all that has happened in the world of Rebels hoops since the end of a disappointing season. Among the topics are the passing of 'Gondo', another defection and some potential newcomers. Plus, is being labeled 'Transfer U.' such a bad thing?

Sun blog

Gondo

Glen Gondrezick, days after receiving a transplanted heart. Launch slideshow »

Audio Clip

  • Glen Gondrezick talks about how much prayers meant to him. (Oct. 2008)

Audio Clip

  • Gondrezick talks about what he's looking forward to. (Oct. 2008)

Audio Clip

  • Gondrezick talks about reaching out his donor's family. (Oct. 2008)

A little bird descended from the rafters of the Thomas & Mack Center on Thursday morning, where Glen Gondrezick's retired jersey had been lowered out of respect, and landed on the black curtain forming the backdrop of the speaking dais.

I figured he was a scout. Gondo probably sent him to see how many of his former teammates, friends and fans called in sick to tell stories about him.

They held a memorial service for Glen "Gondo" Gondrezick, the former UNLV basketball star and longtime broadcast analyst, who died Monday due to complications from heart transplant surgery. A few hundred, falling into one of the above mentioned categories, attended. Most did indeed tell stories about him and shared a laugh, which is how he would have wanted it. Others shed tears. In fact, there were probably more tears than laughs. Maybe he would have wanted that, too, although he would have been last to say so.

"If we were all to talk about him, it would be fitting," said Bob Miller, the former Nevada governor. "But then we'd all be here until next season started."

The memorial was billed as a celebration of Gondo's life, but nobody felt like celebrating very much, because he was gone. The mood was somber. A soft light shone on his retired jersey, No. 25. There were flowers and plants on the platform where the speakers told their stories and choked back their tears. There was Gondo's life-size retired jersey, the white one (the red one is hanging in his living room), a poster on an easel and a couple of TV monitors with his picture on them. Two basketballs, set in front of the podium, completed a stark arrangement.

Had Gondo been in the house, everybody agreed, those basketballs and floral arrangements and potted plants wouldn't have made it through the ceremony unscathed.

"If you wanted to give Gondrezick proper tribute," said Ken Korach, the play-by-play voice of the Oakland A's who was Gondo's UNLV broadcast partner for 12 years, "you'd all come up here and dive head first into this stage."

One by one, those who knew him best shared an anecdote about his love for the Rebels or the tenacity and reckless abandon with which he played basketball or the practical jokes he played on others when he wasn't being tenacious and running into and/or over things with reckless abandon.

Jon Sandler, the voice of the Rebels for the past five years, spoke first. He was followed by Mike Hamrick, the UNLV athletic director. Then former governor Miller. Then Robert Smith, the point guard on the 1977 Final Four team on which he and Gondo and Reggie Theus and the other five members of The Hardway Eight starred, the team that put UNLV onto the college basketball map with a scoring frenzy of seismic proportions. Then Bobby Gleason, Gondo's best friend, and public address announcer Dick Calvert, who gave him his broadcasting start. Then Korach.

Sandler said Gondo was unique in that he could be a player, fan and broadcaster -- all at the same time. "He was euphoric when the Rebels won and frustrated when they lost. I think that's why he connected with all of you."

Hamrick spoke of loyalty to one's alma mater. "Nobody was a bigger or better member of our Rebel family than Gondo."

Smith talked about how Gondo and Theus tied him up with athletic tape and left him in an elevator in Salt Lake City. "He was always the best, always the toughest. I never played a day with him where I thought we were going to lose."

Gleason said only Gondo could have talked him into dancing in front of the Orleans -- while wearing an alligator suit. And only Gondo could give him a phobia about riding in elevators with strangers. "He'd say 'How's that rash doing?' I can't tell you how many people around the country think I have a major disease because of Gondo."

The speakers would share a Gondo story, and then his former teammates and friends and fans would start whispering among themselves, telling their own Gondo stories.

Then when the laughter stopped, the speaker would pause and his voice would crack. And there would be tears.

"The tears I have are tears of joy -- joy I have of being here three years with a man like that," Smith said. "He'll always be my brother."

I tried very hard to keep an eye on the little bird that was perched on the curtain backdrop. If he flies up to the rafters next to Gondo's jersey, I thought, then I will know for sure who sent him.

But darn if I didn't lose sight of him. Somehow, the little bird managed to blend into the background. He made a quiet exit without anybody noticing.

On second thought, he couldn't possibly have been working for Gondo.

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  1. Ron, thank you for your stories about Gondo. You've put a very personal touch on his passing. It is appreciated. Sad to think many of us will revisit his passing in November when we no longer hear his voice on the air. You will be missed, Gondo.

  2. Thanks, Vegas.

    It won't be the same without him.