Twenty years or so changes a lot of things. Mike Tyson’s boxing career peaked at about the same time UNLV’s basketball program was ascending to national championship heights.
Tyson eventually was humbled and took a hard fall, and the same happened to the Rebels. But both have made steps to bounce back in recent years, and paths crossed again Tuesday as Tyson and his three-man entourage stopped by practice at the Mendenhall Center.
UNLV coach Dave Rice delayed a workout and gathered his players for a meeting with the former heavyweight champion, who spoke for approximately 10 minutes.
“It was very motivational and humbling at the same time. He talked to us about togetherness and stuff like that, and he even got a little emotional during the speech,” junior guard Anthony Marshall said.
“He talked about how he was probably one of the most selfish people ever, but for us to get where we’re trying to go, we have to be a team.”
A friend of Tyson’s contacted Rice on Tuesday morning to say Tyson wanted to talk to the team, for no specific reason.
“The first time I saw this team play was this morning when I heard they dropped down to No. 20 (in the polls),” Tyson said.
It’s fair to say Tyson, who lives in Las Vegas, has not kept a close connection to UNLV basketball. He met Rice and assistant coach Stacey Augmon sometime around 1990.
“The last time I saw these guys was when I was fighting and they had a superstar team,” Tyson said.
“When Stacey and those guys was playing, this place was packed and they had to keep people out of practice and stuff. Those years can’t come back, at least not while I’m alive. I can’t see it. I can’t imagine that.”
But Tyson did not show up just to relay that somber message. His speech was meant to help motivate the Rebels heading into this week’s Mountain West Conference tournament and next week’s NCAA Tournament.
“He was just saying that if we really want this, we have to commit ourselves and dedicate ourselves fully to the game and great things will happen,” senior forward Chace Stanback said.
Rice called Tyson’s visit “more of an impromptu deal” that he welcomed because he wanted his players to meet an athlete who had been a champion.
“The biggest thing he was talking to our guys about was, if you want to be a champion, the first step is to want it more than your opponent, and the second step, once you want it more, is to go do something about it,” Rice said.
“I thought he was very humble, too, in terms of taking responsibility for some of the struggles that he had gone through in his life. It’s obvious he has risen above those.”
Tyson said he also wanted to talk to young men about “becoming better people” and life in general.
“I never talked about being a professional fighter. I always talked about being world champion, that’s all I ever wanted to do,” Tyson said. “I could be a monster sometimes, especially if I had a little bit of fame or something.
“I remember when the coach was their age. When it’s really said and done, it’s really up to the kids what they want to do with their life.”