Thinking about Tark, Dad

Like that old Willie Nelson song, Jerry Tarkanian was on my mind. And this was before he suffered a mild heart attack on Tuesday.

I had seen him twice recently, at Rebels against San Diego State and Air Force, and he didn’t look all that great. So before I wrote about the 20th anniversary of his last game as UNLV basketball coach, I called Jodie Diamant, Tark’s daughter, just to see how her dad was doing and if she thought he would be up for an interview.

Oh, yes, she said. Tark might not have looked well at those games but he was feeling well, and that I should call him. And I did. And she was right, because we had a great chat.

Then I get home from NASCAR and flip on the TV to check on the Mountain West tournament. And every time Drew Gordon or one of those guys gets fouled, there’s Tark, sitting behind the basket where they are shooting free throws. I mean, he’s practically in every camera shot.

And then it’s Thursday, and a bunch of us are sitting in front of a bank of high-def TV sets at the Wildfire, and there’s Madness on every channel except for one, on which there is ESPN. And then there’s Madness on that TV, too, because they are showing Tark sitting on the bench looking stressed out, because this appears to be the bench at the Final Four in Indianapolis in 1991.

And then Bobby Hurley’s fat mug is on the screen, and then Christian Laettner’s, and Laettner’s got a touch of gray in his hair because now it’s 2012 and the Dookies are still talking about that game in Indianapolis.

New Mexico manages to hold off Long Beach State. And then Greg Anthony comes on the screen, hawking cellphones.

This is where I mention that Anthony was one of Tark’s guys, too, and that he has done pretty well for himself after basketball. But nobody outside of Las Vegas talks about that much, because they’d rather talk about Richie Adams being arrested while wearing his UNLV letterman’s jacket or whatever.

So, as I say, Tark was on my mind.

And then we get a call Tuesday from somebody who said he just had a heart attack.

Minutes later I was on the phone, talking to Jodie Diamant about her old man again. They were seeing another doctor when his bronchitis flared up and it was suggested they go to MountainView Hospital, which was practically across the street, just to be safe.

I guess if you have to have a heart attack, the best place to have one is in a doctor’s office.

When my father had his aneurysm, he was not in a doctor’s office. He was home alone, and he was 58.

The next-to-last time I saw him, he was 56. It was two nights after UNLV lost to Duke in Indianapolis. It was during the last TV timeout of the national championship game between Duke and Kansas.

I went up to where he was sitting and told him goodbye, because I’d be in the Kansas locker room after the game and there wouldn’t be time then, and that I would probably be back in May for the 500, and I would see him then.

My dad had noticed that I was sitting next to Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe, just down from where Jim Nantz and Billy Packer were calling the game for CBS, and that security had not been summoned to toss me out. He said he was proud of me.

And in a roundabout way, I owe that to Tark, because if the Rebels don’t make the Final Four, then I’m not talking to my old man with 3:48 left in the Duke-Kansas game.

I thought about this, about mortality — Tark’s, my father’s, my own — after Jodie Diamant and I talked on our cellphones, and she told me her dad was going to be OK.   

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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