Coming up later this month, HBO will air a new documentary, this one on the fabled UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, a renegade college basketball program that ran afoul of the NCAA. Coach Jerry Tarkanian constantly had battles with the NCAA and eventually, Tark won a settlement from the organization. His teams always won and from 1990-91, had the potential to be one of the greatest teams in college basketball history. However, Duke got in the way. It’s a very interesting story and I’m glad HBO is telling it. I have an advance copy so expect a review from me in the next week or so. Here’s a preview from the HBO press release.
HBO SPORTS® DOCUMENTARY RUNNIN’ REBELS OF UNLV, THE STORY OF A COLLEGE BASKETBALL DYNASTY AND ITS CONTROVERSIAL COACH, JERRY TARKANIAN, DEBUTS MARCH 12 ON THE EVE OF MARCH MADNESS
The HBO Sports documentary RUNNIN’ REBELS OF UNLV, about the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels men’s basketball team and their controversial coach, Jerry Tarkanian, debuts SATURDAY, MARCH 12 (9:30-10:30 p.m. ET/PT) on the eve of college basketball’s March Madness. The exclusive HBO presentation revisits the period from 1973 to 1992, when the Runnin’ Rebels embodied the brash, swaggering spirit of Las Vegas and the notion that winning and winning big was all that mattered.
Other HBO playdates: March 12 (12:30 a.m. ET/12:05 a.m. PT),14 (7:00 p.m.), 16 (10:00 a.m., midnight), 20 (8:00 a.m.), 22 (1:00 a.m.), 26 (9:00 a.m.), 28 (7:30 a.m., 5:00 p.m.), 29 (6:00 a.m.) and 31 (10:00 p.m.)
HBO2 playdates: March 13 (10:30 p.m.), 19 (8:00 a.m.), 24 (10:00 a.m., midnight), 27 (8:00 a.m.) and 29 (3:30 p.m., 11:00 p.m.)
HBO On Demand availability: March 14-April 11
RUNNIN’ REBELS OF UNLV examines the larger-than-life personalities of future NBA stars such as Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony and Stacey Augmon, as well as the eccentricities of their head coach, who was a lightning rod for controversy. Jerry Tarkanian put UNLV – once dismissed as “Tumbleweed Tech” – on the map in his first full season as head coach, leading the team to a 20-6 record in 1973. Implementing an up-tempo offense and preaching defensive intensity, he guided the Rebels to the Final Four four times and won the 1990 NCAA Championship with a 30-point drubbing of the Duke Blue Devils.
Billed as one of the greatest college basketball teams of all-time, the 1990-1991 Rebels became the first team in 12 seasons to go undefeated during the regular season before losing in the Final Four to archrival Duke in a heartbreaking 79-77 defeat. UNLV has not been back to the Final Four since. Overall, UNLV’s basketball program compiled a jaw-dropping 509-105 record under Tarkanian.
The NCAA consistently plagued the Rebels throughout Tarkanian’s time as head coach, placing UNLV on two-year probation for alleged recruiting violations and attempting to suspend Tarkanian in 1977. Although the coach fought the suspension and was allowed to continue coaching, problems with the NCAA came to a head in 1987 when one of Tarkanian’s prized recruits was caught buying cocaine from an undercover police officer. The Rebels were subsequently prohibited from postseason competition in 1992, when the team finished with a 26-2 record, playing for pride instead of the playoffs.
Jerry Tarkanian departed as head coach of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels on June 7, 1992. He went on to coach the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, but was fired in a dispute with the team’s owner after just 20 games. While coaching for his alma mater Fresno State in 1998, Tarkanian was vindicated by an out-of-court $2.5 million settlement with the NCAA, which he claimed had tried to drive him from college basketball.
Interviews include Jerry and Lois Tarkanian; former UNLV stars Greg Anthony, Reggie Theus, Stacey Augmon and Armen Gilliam; Duke University head coach Mike Krzyzewski; UNLV boosters Irwin Molasky and Sig Rogich; talk show host Jimmy Kimmel; broadcaster Ross Porter; Las Vegas historian Dr. Mike Green; USC professor Dr. Todd Boyd; radio host Bomani Jones; and journalists Armen Keteyian, Steve Carp, Don Yaeger, Greg Blake Miller and John Henderson.
The executive producers of RUNNIN’ REBELS OF UNLV are Ross Greenburg and Rick Bernstein; senior producer, Joe Lavine; produced by George Roy and Steve Stern; music composed by Brian Keane; narrated by Liev Schreiber.
Highlights of RUNNIN’ REBELS OF UNLV:
Former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian on being asked to take a job in the Nevada desert in the mid-‘70s: “They were a relatively unknown program, but they had the resources and they had the potential. In fact, I told my wife, ‘Lois, this is gonna be like a college town.’ She said, ‘Are you kidding? You’re crazy. How could Vegas be a college town?’ ”
Former UNLV star Reggie Theus: “Tark’s motto was: ‘We’re gonna play 40 minutes of nonstop pressure basketball’ We scored 110 points a game with no three-point line.”
Talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, who was raised in Las Vegas: “Vegas has a lot of famous people in it. Most of them don’t live there. They come through, but you see stars all the time. Growing up there I saw Liberace buying meat in the Mayfair Market and Sammy Davis, Jr. buying pants in the boy’s section at Saks Fifth Avenue. And these are things you see regularly. And they are weird things, but Tark is a great character. He always looks so sad, and he’s chewing on his towel. He looks like a bulldog or something. He looks like a stuffed animal.”
Former UNLV star Greg Anthony on the atmosphere at the Thomas & Mack Arena: “When they roll out the red carpet, you had the fireworks going off. That was quite an adrenaline rush. The best part was the ‘Jaws’ theme music.”
Jerry Tarkanian on the NCAA enforcing player suspensions during the 1990 season: “They tried to destroy that team every way they could. I said, ‘We can do one of two things. We can get pissed off and get tougher than hell mentally and kick the crap out of everybody, or else we could fold.’ And we just kept getting tougher and tougher.”
USC Professor Dr. Todd Boyd: “They clearly did not want UNLV and Tarkanian and these guys representing NCAA Basketball.”
Todd Boyd: “You saw a team of urban African-American males playing with a particular swagger, in your face. It was aggressive, it was hard-edged, it was extremely confrontational… Outlaws. Very much in the ethos of street ball. There were a lot of people watching UNLV who were very proud of the fact that this swagger was being seen on national television and this team was so victorious playing this particular style, and the impact was profound in the inner cities, in the streets. The caps, and the tee shirt, all the merchandising, anything that had to do with UNLV was very cool. Because to wear UNLV you were basically saying, ‘I too am a rebel and I identify with their rebellious spirit.’ There were a lot of other people watching UNLV who cringed. UNLV was called thugs.”
Former UNLV star Greg Anthony: “They thought we were all thugs, and idiots, and dumb kids who were athletes, not even student athletes, that didn’t even deserve to be in school.”
Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski on the 1990 NCAA title game won by UNLV 103-73: “They wore us down. Their athleticism, their pressure, they were relentless. And I thought they played their best game in the championship game, which says something about the character of their team.”
Mike Krzyzewski on the 1991 rematch at the Final Four: “When we played them in ’91 we were a better team. We had Hurley now as a sophomore, Laettner, and Grant Hill, even though he was a freshman, was the most talented player on the court. At that point we felt we were their equal. The fact that they beat us badly the year before was probably a positive for us and a little bit of a negative for them.”
Jerry Tarkanian, who brought an undefeated 34-0 UNLV team into the 1991 Final Four: “We lost a heartbreaker. It was the toughest loss I ever had. I mean I just loved those kids so much, they were the best. Even to this day people refer to it as one of the great teams of all time.”
Las Vegas historian Dr. Mike Green: “Las Vegas was and still is a frontier city, where the rules are still being written or haven’t been written. We are a run-and-gun kind of town. A town where things were legal that weren’t legal elsewhere. So when you looked at the basketball program, this is part of our image. It was a perfect match and a perfect storm.”
Mike Krzyzewski: “For two years, UNLV was the dominant team in college basketball. One of the elite programs of all time.”
And that’s it.