Heavyweight legend Mike Tyson pops by practice, speaks to UNLV basketball team

Former champion, Las Vegas resident delivers emotional, impromptu speech

What was normally supposed to be a standard, early week practice for the UNLV men’s basketball team on Tuesday afternoon had a neat, unexpected wrinkle right in the middle of it.

Las Vegas resident and former heavyweight champ boxer Mike Tyson swung by the Mendenhall Center, delivered an impromptu speech to the team that got him a bit emotional and gave the Rebels a nice bit of motivation heading into this week’s Mountain West Conference tournament.

“What stuck with me was when he talked about what motivated him to be the best and stuff like that,” junior guard Anthony Marshall said. “One thing he said motivated him was every time he went out, he wanted to make his trainer happy, just to see that smile on his face each time.

“Each time he stepped in the ring, it was for his coach.”

Marshall, a Las Vegas native, said that he could relate, looking back on his decision to stay home and attend UNLV with the goal of bringing the program’s glory days back. He said that his equivalent to Cus D’Amato — Tyson’s legendary trainer — is the city of Las Vegas.

The speech lasted roughly 10 minutes, and Tyson covered just about everything, including his highs and well-documented personal and professional lows.

“(What stood out was) how humble Mike was about his past and some of the things he’s gone through, and he talked about how he’s risen above those things,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “The main theme was to be a champion, you’ve got to want it more than your opponent, then once you want it more than your opponent, you’ve got to put in the time and the effort and everything it takes to be a champion.”

UNLV (25-7 overall, 9-5 Mountain West) has a tough hill to climb this weekend, despite playing the league tournament as the 3-seed on their home floor.

The Rebels open the tourney with what promises to be a physical, gritty third meeting with 6-seed Wyoming on Thursday night, with the winner moving on to likely face 2-seed New Mexico on Friday night in what should be another war.

Tyson’s attendance at practice was arranged by local ESPN radio host Seat Williams, and whether the speech affects how UNLV performs this weekend won’t be seen until, well, this weekend.

But the entire team enjoyed the experience and hung on his every word.

“I remember a lot of his fights,” Marshall said. “My mom and dad were heavy into the fights, and at the time, he was one of the biggest celebrities in the world. I remember staying up, ordering the fights and watching them.

“I have the opportunity to tell her I got to shake his hand today, so that should be exciting for her.”