A Shark Must Keep Swimming

Have you been wronged? Is your emotional baggage so heavy that airlines levy a surcharge? Then what you need, my friend, is closure. Make your peace. Enter into productive dialogue with your demons.

If your name happens to be Jerry Tarkanian, you can achieve this in three easy steps: Embrace the love of your community, soak in the accolades of the coaching fraternity and the hold fast to the memory of your One Shining Moment. Feel better?

Tarkanian had his big closure opportunity on Feb. 18 at the Palms’ Brenden Theatres, where the documentary Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV premiered before many of his former players and longtime supporters. (It will air on HBO beginning March 12.) The film—a bracing if somewhat rushed one-hour ride through 19 years of Rebel history—offered the most balanced treatment Tarkanian is ever likely to get from the national media. The dark moments from the Book of Tark were covered, but rarely have we seen an account with so much light. Maybe the East Coast elite was looking for closure: The film ends with a close-up of the $2.5 million settlement check Tark received from the NCAA in 1998.

The lights came up, and Tarkanian, sitting smack dab in the middle of the theater, was handed a microphone. What poured forth were the sounds of a man unwilling to go gently into the twilight of Wise Old Coach-hood. He liked the film, but he said it should have gone harder on the NCAA. He then proceeded to take his old enemies for another round through the Shark’s digestive system.

By the time he finished, it was easy for a listener to surrender to the temptations of sentiment—to wish that Tark would at last feel peace, that he would absorb the love in the room, smile that sad-eyed grin and declare victory.

But for Tarkanian, closure would be an amputation of soul. If he were inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame tomorrow, you can be sure he would amble to the podium and extract a tasty bit of NCAA flesh. He is an iconoclast, a fighter, a misunderstood artist who bears his grievance with infinite pride.

He is an avatar of a disappearing Las Vegas.

And the day he stops fighting, we’ll have lost a piece of ourselves.

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