The process is still early and Lois Tarkanian isn’t completely confident it will get done, but in two weeks her family will receive the script for a Hollywood movie about UNLV basketball’s role in Las Vegas’ transition to a modern-day metropolis.
“I always wait for the fruition of these things,” said Lois, whose late husband, Jerry, is expected to be the central figure in the film. “You never quite know if it will make it, but people seem to think it’s going to make it to production, so that is exciting.”
If the movie becomes reality, Jerry Tarkanian’s son, Danny, said he expects it to hit theaters in 2020 during college basketball season.
Shawn Christensen, who won an Academy Award for his 2012 short film “Curfew,” is handling the screenplay. Creative Artists Agency will promote the movie.
Danny Tarkanian has written a book on his dad that he hopes will get published next year, and he shared it with Christensen to help with the script. The working title for the book is: “The Jerry Tarkanian Story, Rebel with a Cause.”
From what the Tarkanians understand, the movie will marry the role of UNLV basketball under the Hall of Fame coach with the evolution of Las Vegas from a city heavily influenced by the mob to the corporate-run Strip that exists today.
Jerry Tarkanian led his own transition of the Rebels’ program, turning it into a national power that made four Final Fours and won the 1990 national championship.
The Las Vegas Valley came together as a community when Tarkanian had the Rebels rolling. Winning was the biggest factor, but not the only one.
“He changed his whole style of coaching,” said Lois Tarkanian, who represents Ward 1 on the Las Vegas City Council. “Not only did he change it because of the talent that he had here … but he changed it because of the city. He knew that this was a city that loved things that were fast and quick and colorful.”
Jerry Tarkanian, who died three years ago at age 84, also had an ongoing battle with the NCAA over alleged violations. He won a $2.5 million settlement in 1998 after suing the organization.
Danny Tarkanian, a Republican candidate for Nevada’s third U.S. House District, said he hopes the script shows his dad ran a cleaner program than many believed. He pointed to the several college basketball powers currently caught up in an FBI investigation into alleged corruption.
“You can see what’s happening now,” he said. “At not one time in my father’s 16 years of investigation by the NCAA did they come out with a charge of giving large sums to players. So that’s one (part he’d like to see in the script), talk about what really happened with the program and how my dad really just took care of his players so they could live like everyday kids who were going to college.”
Which actor will portray Jerry Tarkanian still needs to be determined. Danny Tarkanian said he heard Paul Giamatti would make sense if available.
“I was told Leonardo DiCaprio was a big UNLV fan and he loves the script,” Danny Tarkanian said. “I have no idea what’s going to happen. Obviously, any one of those guys would be wonderful.”
Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV impact
Final Fours: 1977, 1987, 1990, 1991
National championship: 1990