If you’re new to college basketball and are interested in what would be a great game to watch first, last night’s Duke-North Carolina marathon would be a solid choice.
And, once you’ve claimed your breath back from that, you’ll find that it’s only the start of a rivalry that has been blessed with classics that are simply timeless.
But Duke’s 92-90 overtime victory over the Tar Heels on Wednesday night was a reminder of the true winner: basketball.
Before the game, both teams huddled at mid court, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski placed his arm around his opposite number Roy Williams, which was followed by the players of both teams as they paid their respects to legendary former North Carolina coach Dean Smith, who passed away on February 7, aged 83.
The cosy Cameron Indoor Stadium, with its customary sell-out crowd, known for its crazy and fiercely loyal support towards their beloved Blue Devils was asked by the game night announcer to stand and pay tribute to the recently departed master.
It didn’t matter if the person the Blue Devil fans were standing for was notoriously calling the shots for Duke’s rivals, they still stood united because the best memory that Smith gave for everyone not just inside the Stadium but the world over was because he played a part in some of the most unforgettable Duke and North Carolina match-ups ever.
Smith was the man also responsible for giving us Michael Jordan and showcasing him to the world.
And for that; both sets of fans, as well as basketball fans all over, are eternally grateful.
Duke fans showed their respect for the late Dean Smith.
At the same time, some 3,700 km further west of Durham, on the famous Las Vegas strip, they were holding their own tribute.
South Las Vegas Boulevard in Clark County is home to one of earth’s most colourful spots with its showtime lights and flamboyant atmosphere, whatever the time is. Wednesday night it dimmed its lights.
While Duke and North Carolina celebrated the life of one coach, Las Vegas celebrated on of their own. On February 11, UNLV was saddened to hear that legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian passed away, aged 84.
For three minutes, the uniquely “Las Vegas way” of paying their last respects took place as the lights dimmed and outside the Thomas and Mack Center, where UNLV play their home games, fans bowed their heads before chanting “Jerry, Jerry”.
It was a touching moment in a scene, usually reserved for megastars such as recording artists and people that have appeared on the big screen.
Elvis Presley, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, George Burns and Frank Sinatra have all experienced the Vegas tribute. And while Tarkanian might not be a name that is quite as household as the legends before him, but that acknowledgment illustrates what impact the playcaller had not just with UNLV, but on the NCAA and basketball as a whole.
Not surprisingly, it’s not as easy as flipping a normal switch or rather clicking a mouse in this day and age of highly technical wiring. And observers shouldn’t have expected a blackout anyway.
The casinos keep street-level lights on, including at their entrances, for the sake of safety. All interior lights will also remain on.
While there might be some neon, plenty of the Strip’s illumination is courtesy of high-powered lights on the ground aimed at the buildings that give the Wynn and Encore resorts, for example, that golden sheen.
In the case of Wynn and Encore, the lights aimed at the top of the building were earmarked to go out, along with the glittering logos, but the bottom of the buildings will still glow, again, for safety’s sake so people can see their surroundings.
In his 31 seasons total, the Hall of Famer spent 19 years as head coach of the Runnin’ Rebels, with stints at Long Beach State, Fresno and even the San Antonio Spurs, but his time with UNLV will be the one most remembered.
Tarkanian led UNLV to four Final Four appearances and a national title in 1990. But he was mainly known for suing the NCAA after they ordered UNLV to suspend him in 1977.
He continued coaching while the case was pending. The Supreme Court ruled against him in 1988, but he remained UNLV’s coach after a settlement with the NCAA.
Tarkanian sued them again in 1992, and the case was settled when he received $2.5 million in 1998.
The Ohio-born coach was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013. The perfect accolade for one of the game’s more colourful coaches.
BOTH WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN
Both Smith and Tarkanian will never be forgotten, in a week where the NCAA paid its respects to two masters of the game.