Jerry Tarkanian gets a tribute that only Las Vegas could swing

The marquee outside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino honors longtime UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images


The Las Vegas Strip dimmed its lights late Wednesday night to honor legendary University of Nevada, Las Vegas men’s basketball Coach Jerry Tarkanian who died Feb. 11 at the age of 84.

The major Las Vegas Strip casino-hotels plus a few off-Strip properties and local casinos dimmed their exteriors for three minutes starting at 10:30 p.m. PST.

The Luxor’s heaven-sent beam of light appeared to be the first to go.

One by one the Las Vegas Strip’s casinos and downtown Las Vegas shut off their lights for a few minutes, leaving ghostly shapes of buildings from a distance.

Mandalay Bay shut off its lights a little delayed to cheers from a crowd on the steps of UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center after the school’s home basketball game against Boise State.

They chanted "Jerry" as they waited for the lights to go out.


It’s a tribute that gained steam via a social media campaign and one the destination has only made for several other people and on a few occasions.

A darkened Strip has honored the legacies of Las Vegas entertainers including, in order, Elvis Presley, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, George Burns and Frank Sinatra after their deaths, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 appears to have been the first time the area’s casinos paid tribute in such a uniquely Las Vegas way. Ronald Reagan’s death in 2004 marked the second time a president had been eulogized with a dimmed Las Vegas Boulevard and the last time the tribute was reserved for a notable person.

The Strip has turned off its lights every year since 2009 every Earth Hour in March.

An Associated Press report about the 1990 tribute to Sammy Davis Jr. mentioned that the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 may have prompted the dimmed light display, too, although the region’s tourism agency couldn’t confirm that report.



Not surprisingly, it’s not as easy as flipping a switch or rather clicking a mouse in this day and age of highly technical wiring. And observers shouldn’t have expected a blackout.

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.


Not everything was going dark.

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The High Roller observation wheel was to turn red, UNLV’s primary color, because the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t allow the 550-foot tall structure to go entirely dark. Neither will the very top of the Stratosphere tower for the same reason.

Also, the massive marquees flanking the street were expected to feature a photo of Tarkanian himself


UNLV honored Tarkanian with a pregame tribute and video Wednesday night that included scenes from the Runnin’ Rebels’ national championship in 1990.

Members of the Tarkanian family and several former players attended the event at the Thomas and Mack Center in honor of the former Rebels coach, who died last week at age 84.


The university brought out a chair from the 1990 Final Four and placed a folded towel on it, just as it would have been left for Tarkanian, who continually chewed on a damp towel during games. The chair remained on the sideline and unoccupied during UNLV’s Mountain West Conference game against Boise State.

"It was a very nice ceremony," season-ticket holder Gene Porter said. "Getting the Final Four chair from Denver and putting it out there was as classy a move as I’ve seen in a long time."

Before the game, fans were given commemorative white towels with the word "TARK" printed on them inside of a black circle with a shark fin in place of the "A". Tarkanian was popularly known as "Tark the Shark" and the arena was known as the "Shark Tank."

The five-minute tribute included references to Tarkanian’s prolonged legal battles with the NCAA. It also showed his induction ceremony into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.


Others were dimming their lights in solidarity for Tarkanian, too.

The grounds of the state capitol in Carson City were to go dark, along with the glittery arch beckoning travelers to "The Biggest Little City in the World," Reno, Nevada.

"Mr. Tarkanian is a true Nevada legend, and this allows us all an official, collective moment to reflect on his incredible influence on students, athletes, and sports fans," said Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve in a statement.