It’s safe to say we miss sports. Especially this week.
The NCAA was scheduled to hold its men’s basketball Final Four this weekend in Atlanta. We were looking forward to the proceedings in Mercedes-Benz Stadium and seeing who would cut down the nets come Monday night.
In Las Vegas, the anticipation would have come from the thousands of people betting millions on the Final Four. But that’s not going to happen, so all we have are our memories.
And if you lived in Vegas 30 years ago, your memories of April 2, 1990 should still be vivid. It was the one shining moment that brought an entire city together.
UNLV 103, Duke 73.
That Monday night in Denver, Jerry Tarkanian’s team put on an unforgettable performance. Anderson Hunt was scoring from all over the McNichols Sports Arena court. Stacey Augmon and Larry Johnson were seemingly everywhere, making plays. Greg Anthony was driving the train to its final stop with impeccable precision.
And the supporting cast — David Butler, Moses Scurry, Stacey Cvijanovich, James Jones, Barry Young, Travis Bice, Chris Jeter, Dave Rice and Bryan Emerzian — all pitched in when Tark called on them. They were a tight-knit team that drew close through adversity, on and off the court.
The school was under investigation by the NCAA. Anthony had broken his jaw against Fresno State in mid-February only to return to practice the next day. A tearful Johnson took the blame for a loss at New Mexico State and became the leader.
They were a tough group of guys — both physically and mentally. And Las Vegas, save for a few supporters of the school’s president, loved them. Their practices in the spartan confines of UNLV’s North Gym, were wars. In fact, the practices were harder than many of the games.
Once in a while, war was actually waged. There was a skirmish with Loyola Marymount early in the year in the Thomas & Mack Center tunnel during the preseason NIT. There were punches thrown against Utah State in the final minutes where even Aggies coach Kohn Smith got decked by Scurry. A month later, some Utah State students sought retribution by setting off a blue water bomb under the UNLV bench at the start of the second half which left Tark drenched.
And in the Sweet 16 in Oakland, after the Rebels held off a determined Ball State squad to advance, there were words exchanged under the stands with Hunt yelling at the Cardinals, “Go home, Suckers!”
No, these Rebels never backed down from a fight, be it verbal or physical. It was part of their DNA. When you’ve got guys from Brooklyn, D.C., Detroit, Dallas and L.A. in a single room, you’re going to have some toughness.
And that’s what eventually got UNLV through to the end, to hold the trophy and be the last man standing. There were around 755,000 people living in Clark County the night the Rebels cut down the nets and it was one hell of a party.
Unfortunately, I missed it. I was in Denver chronicling the events of April 2 for the Las Vegas Sun. It was literally an all-nighter, staying up to see Tarkanian go on Good Morning America at 4:30 a.m. and try to explain the unexplainable, how his team stayed focused throughout March and finish it off in April thrashing Duke, posting the most lopsided win in NCAA championship history.
For a couple of days, Las Vegas came together as one. The next time we would see sports bring this city together would be 27 years later when an expansion hockey team united a city after a tragedy devised by man — a lone deranged gunman to be specific — which saw 58 people die.
And as we deal with the coronavirus outbreak which appears to show no signs of slowing down, we may need sports more than ever to unite us, to lift our sagging spirits, to make us feel like some normalcy is returning to our lives.
Maybe it’ll be the Golden Knights who once again rise to the occasion. Perhaps it will be our WNBA team, the Aces. Maybe come fall, our newest member of the Vegas sports family, the Raiders, will deliver.
But as we remain forced to watch replays of games past on our flat screen TVs as we continue to self-quarantine in our homes, let us take a moment and recall a basketball team that on one magical night in the Rockies owned the sports world and brought their city together.
Happy 30th anniversary UNLV.