We worshipped Tark. We named our youth rec league basketball teams after him; we were the Sharks.
He was a Vegas celebrity of the highest order, but he was one of us, our coach, our family. He taught us how to compete, how to win and when to fight. An old friend from those formative years put it best in a touching Facebook post: “You helped build a school so many of my family and friends have passed through. My brothers, friends and I were groomed in your style of ball. We continue to play to this day. Thank you for so many moments of happiness in my childhood and young adulthood.”
We knew the time would come when we would have to say goodbye to Jerry Tarkanian, but it’s still a shocking loss. It’s because of what he meant to all of us. Tark was the embodiment of the eternal Las Vegas aspiration, to do more than leave one’s mark on this desert canvas. He made the rest of the world pay attention to Vegas.
We lost our greatest sports icon in a week in which athletic oddities dominated local headlines. On that same Wednesday, it was announced that Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West team was stripped of its Little League World Series title for having players from outside its geographical boundaries, giving the title to our very own Mountain Ridge team. Our small town-ness was in full glory when Mountain Ridge, the first Nevada team to advance to the Little League World Series, made its exciting playoff run in August. Now our sports community is trying to figure out how to celebrate this championship-by-default.
The day before that development, MGM Grand hosted a press conference in which our potential pro hockey team’s ownership group hosted NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and announced it was already more than halfway to its goal of collecting 10,000 season ticket deposits. With the MGM arena that would host the team under construction and set to open just west of the New York-New York casino-resort in about a year, this thing looks like it’s going to happen. The NHL isn’t making any promises, but this is certainly as close as our city has ever been to a major league pro sports franchise. (Unless you count Tark’s 1990-’91 Runnin’ Rebels squads, which could have beaten several NBA teams.)
Just days after exalting in our hockey-team dreams, our soccer-team dreams were dashed. The controversial plans to build a tax-subsidized, $200-million stadium at Downtown’s Symphony Park—bickered over for months by the Las Vegas City Council—were too uncertain for Major League Soccer, which messaged Mayor Carolyn Goodman to deliver the bad news: Vegas’ bid for an MLS team in 2017 or 2018 is not going to happen. It was another blow to our sports scene but probably worse for burgeoning Downtown, as the city will have to start fresh in developing the rest of Symphony Park. It was the bookend to a roller-coaster week we’re glad is over.