Las Vegas, Nevada – Jerry Tarkanian and his UNLV team played a pivotal role in transforming Las Vegas into a sports town long before the Super Bowl arrived. Tarkanian’s arrival in the 1970s turned UNLV basketball into a national brand, despite having to navigate the sometimes dangerous world of old-school, mob-influenced Las Vegas.
Tarkanian’s impact on the city’s sports culture was significant. He led the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels to multiple NCAA Tournament appearances and a national championship in 1990. His team’s success and style of play captured the attention of sports fans across the country, putting Las Vegas on the map as a basketball powerhouse.
The rise of UNLV basketball under Tarkanian’s leadership was not without its challenges. The coach faced scrutiny from the NCAA due to allegations of rule violations, but Tarkanian always maintained his innocence. Despite the controversy, he prevailed and continued to build a strong program that the entire city rallied behind.
Beyond the basketball court, Tarkanian’s impact extended to the Las Vegas community. His charisma and connection with the city’s residents, including celebrities like Frank Sinatra, helped foster a sense of pride and loyalty in UNLV basketball. Tarkanian’s wife, Lois, was also a beloved figure in the community, further cementing the team’s bond with the city.
Tarkanian’s influence on Las Vegas went beyond the sport itself. He demonstrated that a small city like Las Vegas could become a sports destination, challenging the notion that sports could only thrive in major metropolitan areas. His success paved the way for future sporting events, such as the arrival of the Super Bowl, and established Las Vegas as a viable location for major sporting events.
Today, the legacy of Jerry Tarkanian and his UNLV team still resonates in Las Vegas. The city continues to embrace sports, with professional teams like the Las Vegas Raiders and the Vegas Golden Knights calling it home. Tarkanian’s contribution to the city’s sports culture will always be remembered, as he turned Las Vegas into a sports town long before the Super Bowl arrived.