Friday, Nov. 11, 2011 | 2 a.m.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
From an editorial on June 12, 1977, after six players from the UNLV team were drafted in the first four rounds of the NBA’s annual lottery:
It doesn’t matter whether you saw UNLV play in person, on television, just heard them over the radio or just read about them in the newspaper. They were Southern Nevada’s Runnin’ Rebels, a group of young men that an entire city fell head over heels in love with. ...
In the “Entertainment Capital of America,” a basketball team drew top billing and played to rave reviews game after game.
The pride with which Las Vegans pointed out their hometown team can only grow with this latest achievement. ...
From an editorial published Nov. 10, 1993, after the NCAA levied sanctions against UNLV:
There were no winners. The six-year investigation into UNLV men’s basketball left many walking wounded — the coaching leadership, athletic officials, university administrators.
The schools’s national reputation was bruised. Game attendance dropped. Foundation donors shied away. ...
It’s time for members of the community to remember that UNLV is their university where their friends and family attend school to better themselves. UNLV is, to an extent, a reflection of Southern Nevada itself. Now more than ever, the community should rally in support of its university and help it continue to grow into the institution it deserves to be.
From an editorial March 20, 2008, on UNLV’s entry into the NCAA Tournament:
Las Vegas is starting to consistently experience excitement about the program that hasn’t been seen since the team’s heyday under Jerry Tarkanian. ... even former UNLV and NBA star Larry Johnson has returned to the Thomas & Mack Center, ending his long estrangement because of bitterness over Tarkanian’s ouster in 1992. ...
When the Rebels do well, it brings Las Vegans together, adding to the sense of community here. And besides, it’s just a lot of fun.
Under the leadership of legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian, the UNLV men’s basketball team became nationally known and was a perennial contender in the NCAA Tournament, winning the championship in 1990.
As the program surged, Las Vegas became enraptured by basketball, and people enthusiastically supported the Runnin’ Rebels. In a region without a major-league sports franchise, the Rebels became the game in town, and their performance on the court made them a source of pride for Southern Nevada.
A sports team can help nurture a community because it can provide a sense of identity — it gives people something in common they can share, whether over the water cooler at work or in passing around town. That’s not just based on a win-loss record. Teams that have failed to consistently succeed can provide some sense of identity if they share a history with the community.
UNLV is still a relatively young university, and the strong sense of identity rooted in the basketball team has waned since the days when Tarkanian chewed on a towel at the Thomas & Mack Center. The controversy that surround the program and Tarkanian’s ouster left the community divided, and things haven’t been the same since. The team dropped from national prominence and for years struggled to find a high level of success.
Tonight, the Runnin’ Rebels open their season at the Thomas & Mack Center and there is a sense of nostalgia, if not a longing for a return to the glory days, among longtime fans. There are significant ties to the past this season. Dave Rice, who played on the team that won the national title, starts his tenure as head coach. Rice becomes the first former Rebel to coach the team, and he hired former teammate and UNLV great Stacey Augmon as an assistant coach, further linking to the program to its heyday.
There is reason to be hopeful about the future. Rice takes over a program that in recent years saw improvements under the leadership of Lon Kruger. Before leaving to coach at Oklahoma, Kruger put the program on the right track. He won two conference championships and took the team to the NCAA Tournament four times in seven years, including one appearance in the Sweet 16.
For fans, the hope now is that Rice can build on Kruger’s success and return UNLV to a place of prominence in college basketball.
We hope he can. As we have noted before, a strong team can help build a sense of community. It does give a town a town something to rally around, and Las Vegas sure could use some good news these days.
As well, winning teams can also provide great publicity for a university. A strong sports program can attract students, and the national publicity a winning team brings certain doesn’t hurt a town built on tourism.
Rice and Augmon’s ties to the great Runnin’ Rebels teams do spur excitement for the fans, but the new coach should be allowed time to shape the team and build the program. In the meantime, we hope people support the Rebels. The program has a rich past that helped rally the community. Here’s hoping for an even better future.
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