Like a library book checked out decades ago, Jerry Tarkanian’s induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame was way overdue. As reported by the Review-Journal’s Steve Carp, the renowned basketball coach — who took the men’s program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to incredible heights over a 19-year stretch — was finally, rightly honored Sunday in Springfield, Mass.
Over the past three decades, there have been many great college basketball coaches who have had long, successful careers with various programs: Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, Dean Smith at North Carolina, Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, Roy Williams at both North Carolina and Kansas, Rick Pitino at Kentucky and Louisville, Lute Olson at Arizona, the irascible Bobby Knight at Indiana. But there have been precious few coaches in any era who have rethought the game and influenced it as much as Mr. Tarkanian.
He racked up 990 victories as a junior college and Division I coach, including 509 in 19 years overseeing the Rebels — an average of nearly 27 wins per season at UNLV. He took the Rebels to a boatload of NCAA Tournament appearances, including four Final Fours and his crowning achievement, the national title in 1990. And he did all that with a run-and-gun style predicated on suffocating defense that created ridiculously entertaining amounts of offense.
Any college program that employs up-tempo play today owes a huge debt to Mr. Tarkanian.
His run at UNLV is still quite a legacy for this community, two decades after it ended. People who have been here a long time still take great pride in the Runnin’ Rebels. Now that pride can grow, thanks to the Hall of Fame voters. Mr. Tarkanian’s enshrinement was delayed by his myriad run-ins with the NCAA, the aspersions cast on which players he recruited and how he might have recruited them, and the messy way it all ended at UNLV after the publication in this newspaper of the infamous hot tub photo, in which three UNLV players were pictured with Richard Perry, who years earlier had been convicted in a point-shaving scandal.
Mr. Tarkanian ultimately was vindicated, with the NCAA settling the long-running feud by paying him $2.5 million in damages in 1998.
In a better-late-than-never move, voters looked past issues real and perceived and allowed Mr. Tarkanian — now 83 years old and struggling with his health — to have this well-deserved moment with his whole family and his former players. No less a basketball authority than Bill Walton, who helped present Mr. Tarkanian at Sunday’s ceremony, lauded the decision, telling Mr. Carp, “An injustice has been corrected. When you think about Jerry Tarkanian the man, what he did for people, never looking at color, willing to give young men a second chance in life, that means more to society than anything he did in basketball, which is quite immense.”
Immense indeed. Long overdue, Mr. Tarkanian has gotten his due. Congratulations to him and his family.