For more than 50 years, Dick Calvert’s signature voice has embodied UNLV athletics, most notably booming from the Thomas & Mack Center speakers:
“Aaaaaaand now! Let’s roll out the red carpet for YOUR Runnin’ Rebels!”
“THREE-point goal, Freddie Banks!”
Any diehard Rebel basketball fan reading those words can hear the baritone voice that accompanies them and follow Calvert’s cadence as if singing a favorite song.
In a city that continually reinvents itself, one of the few constants has been Calvert’s voice over the public-adress system. But after 52 seasons, Calvert, 86, has decided to step back from the mic, and Runnin’ Rebel basketball will tip off this month without one of the architects of its culture.
Calvert has been an essential piece of UNLV athletics — basketball, football, baseball and more — nearly as long as the university has had an athletic program. When he joined UNLV in 1971, the school’s name had changed from Nevada Southern University just two years earlier, the basketball team played its games inside the Convention Center’s silver-domed rotunda, and it would be a few more seasons before the Rebels would start “Runnin’.” To further punctuate his longevity, Calvert has the distinction of having worked for all 15 athletic directors in the school’s history.
“He’s an absolute legend,” says UNLV sports information director Andy Grossman. “His voice is synonymous with Rebel athletics. They call him the ‘Voice of the Rebels’ for a reason. It’s hard to imagine going to a Rebel athletic contest as a fan and not hearing his voice. That’ll take some getting used to.”
Calvert has called more than 200 events throughout the valley each year and has manned the mic at more than 5,000 UNLV contests over his career. “Very simply, it was a long run, over half a century in all, and I’m 86 years old,” he says. “I always wanted to drop the mic, so I decided that’s what we would do.”
Calvert began scaling back his UNLV duties years ago, having previously worked as director of broadcasting, director of marketing for Olympic sports and director of athletic facilities/operations, but giving up his microphone truly represents the end of an era.
His ties to the university’s history even predate his time in Las Vegas. While Calvert started at UNLV one year before coach Jerry Tarkanian arrived and began turning the basketball program into a national powerhouse, he was already well-acquainted with Tarkanian and his younger brother Myron from growing up in Pasadena, California. Jerry Tarkanian, who was six years older than Calvert, coached at Pasadena City College in 1966-68, compiling a 67-4 record with one junior college state title before moving on to Long Beach State.
In Calvert’s fourth year at UNLV — Tarkanian’s third — the Runnin’ Rebel mythology was born. In 1975-76, Calvert had to call out baskets faster than any college PA announcer ever before. The Rebels scored a record 110.5 points per game, finishing the season 29-2 and ranked third in the final AP poll.
The next season was even better: With a nucleus of Eddie Owens, Reggie Theus, Glen Gondrezick, Robert Smith, Sam Smith, Lewis Brown, Tony Smith and Larry Moffett, the team produced 107 points per game and packed the 6,300-seat Convention Center. The building, Calvert recalls, practically shook with each Rebel basket, one shot seemingly launched from farther than the one before. The Rebels surged to their first-ever Final Four appearance, falling to North Carolina, 84-83, before winning the now-defunct third-place game, 106-94 over North Carolina-Charlotte.
“That’s still the best ballclub,” Calvert says of the 1976-77 squad, which finished 29-3. “There was no 3-point shot in those days, there was no shot clock and they scored 100 points every game. It was ridiculous. And if they went over 100 points, then part of my job was to say ‘The fries are free’ for a local restaurant.”
If Calvert remains especially fond of that team, he would eventually form an even tighter relationship with one of its stars, Gondrezick, who went on to play six seasons in the NBA. After his playing days, “Gondo” — as he was universally and affectionately known — returned to Las Vegas and served as a UNLV basketball radio and TV analyst for 17 seasons. He died in 2009 at age 53 after complications from a heart attack.
While Calvert still misses his old roommate from UNLV road trips, it’s the young Gondo he reminisces about, picturing the 6-foot-6-inch player diving into the front row for a loose ball on the Convention Center court. “Many times he’d go for a ball and take out four or five people,” Calvert says.
Those courtside seats would famously go on to be referred to as “Gucci Row,” a term that has lasted over the decades and even made its way into the Drake song “Tuscan Leather (Nothing Was the Same)” in 2013. Calvert coined the term, although he says he had some major assistance.
“My wife, Anne, who was a fashion model in her younger days, actually clued me in,” he says. “The women came to basketball games dressed just like they used to at shows here in town, in their nice dresses and fur coats and stuff. And the ones who were the ‘who’s who’ would sit at the courtside seats, which were not protected by any barriers. That became Gucci Row. But first, Anne had to tell me what Gucci was!”
With Calvert as master of ceremonies, the pregame introductions for the Runnin’ Rebels developed into a Vegas-worthy spectacle, a sensational production that also changed the fan experience in NBA arenas across the country.
“It started out really with just the cheerleaders and the band playing,” Calvert says. “Then they started swirling lights a little bit, but it evolved into a major introduction, with the fireworks and pyrotechnics and the music and all that. It was kind of a work-in-progress as it built up. Ironically enough, probably the most popular introduction in all of basketball is the Chicago Bulls, which copied us lock, stock and barrel. But their people came in and saw what we were doing.”
Although best known for his UNLV basketball and football work, it was baseball that brought Calvert to Las Vegas. After his career as a catcher in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization bogged down in the low minor leagues, he became a scout for the team. He had success in that role, most notably helping sign Ron Cey, the power-hitting third baseman nicknamed “The Penguin,” who was part of the Dodgers’ starting infield that played together from 1973-81, setting a Major League Baseball record for longevity. But those were tough times for a guy with a young family.
“It was time for me to get out of baseball and start making a living,” Calvert says. “In those days, scouting was the bottom of the food chain. We didn’t have amateur scouts and professional scouts separately. We did everything.”
Calvert was familiar with UNLV, having scouted its baseball team, and after beating out three other hopefuls at an audition to become the school’s basketball PA announcer, he’s been in that seat ever since.
A late-2020 battle with COVID landed Calvert in the hospital for two weeks, but he is feeling strong again and plans to stay engaged in the local sports scene. He is scheduled to call his 31st Las Vegas Bowl on December 17 at Allegiant Stadium, and he plans to continue hosting visiting baseball scouts for the Aviators. And to keep nostalgic fans from becoming too bereft, his trademark voice will still be heard in UNLV TV and radio ads. As for Calvert’s familiar in-game calls, Grossman says the athletic department is working on ways to use his recorded voice at home games to honor him and preserve his contributions to UNLV.
Attending UNLV football’s home opener this year produced mixed feelings for Calvert, but it also allowed him to do something he’d never done before. “You know, that was the toughest part — that I didn’t do what I’ve been doing for 52 years,” he says. “But I did something maybe even better: I got to sit with my wife and watch the game. And that was special.” ◆
Watch our interview with Dick Calvert at LVRJ.com/rjmagazine.