Jerry Tarkanian has been paid a tribute like only Las Vegas knows how to do. The major casinos along the Las Vegas Strip, plus a few off the Strip properties and local casinos, dimmed their outside lights starting at 10:30 pm PST for three minutes. The legendary University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) men’s basketball coach died on February 11, 2015 at the age of 84. A public memorial service will be held on March 1, 2015 at 2:00 pm at the UNLV Thomas and Mack Center.
As if by cue, the casinos started one after the other turning their lights off. The Mandalay Bay Casino was delayed in turning their lights off, and a crowd gathered on the steps of the UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center after a basketball game could be heard chanting, “Jerry” as they waited for the lights to go out.
The Vegas tribute gained momentum via a social media campaign. This sort of tribute does not happen frequently, and is a testament to how well-liked Tarkanian was and how special he was. Others before him that have been honored with the darkening of the lights are Elvis, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, George Burns and Frank Sinatra after their deaths.
John F. Kennedy’s untimely death in 1963 appears to be the first time this special Las Vegas tribute was done. The only other president to share this honor was Ronald Reagan in 2004. No one since Reagan has had this special tribute until Tarkanian.
For safety reasons, all interior lights stay on (as well as street-level lights) including at their entrances. The Federal Aviation Administration does not allow tall structures, like the High Roller and the Stratosphere, to go entirely dark. The High Roller observation deck was to turn red, and the marquees to feature a picture of Tarkanian.
At the first basketball game since Tarkanian’s passing, towels were distributed, like the ones that Tarkanian himself would chew. Others joined in the tribute around the state. Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve gave the statement that Tarkanian was a true Nevada legend, and that a collective moment should be taken to give respect to the substantial influence he had on athletes, sports fans, and students. UNLV president Len Jessup stated that Tarkanian made Runnin’ Rebel basketball a brand name, while inspiring the community and creating a legacy that endures to this day.
Tarkanian coached at UNLV from 1973 to 1992. He led the Runnin’ Rebels to the Final Four four times, winning the championship in 1990 over Duke. UNLV’s streak of 10 seasons, with at least 25 wins from 1983 to 1992, is matched only by UCLA. This is how he gained the nickname Tark the Shark. Tarkanian resigned in 1992. He coached briefly in the NBA for the San Antonio Spurs, and following this went to his alma mater, Fresno State. He retired in 2002, and was inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.
A memorable tribute has been given to a legendary icon, Tarkanian, and in the only way Las Vegas knows how to – in grand fashion. This is fitting for a man with a grand passion and a desire to make a difference. He left a legacy behind.
By Michele Enli