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HBO does it right with UNLV

Larry Johnson

Larry Johnson Credit: AP

HBO has done it again.

Television’s leading premium channel has never had a problem tackling controversial issues when it comes to producing documentaries. Whether its sports, current events or historic pieces, HBO is second to none in the documentary business.

HBO went above and beyond the call in its latest venture, a look into the high-flying UNLV Runnin’ Rebels under controversial coach Jerry Tarkanian. The “Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV” premiers on Saturday, March 12, on HBO at 9:30 p.m.

Seeing clips from those great UNLV teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s bought back a lot of memories. Those teams, which included the likes of Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony, Armon Gilliam and Anderson Hunt, were something to behold.

Documentaries are sometimes slanted, depending on who produced them. UNLV, despite all the controversy, which captured the college basketball world's fancy with its acrobatics and talent, was easy to root for.

But HBO gets credit for exposing both sides of the Runnin’ Rebels heyday, everything from the controversy involving from the recruitment of former New York City high school superstar Lloyd Daniels to the photo of several Rebel players sitting in a hot tub with Richard "Richie the Fixer" Perry, a convicted sports event fixer. 

Tarkanian, who the NCAA relentlessly pursued for years, comes off as both a controversial and sympathetic figure. The program doesn't delve too much into his pre-UNLV days at Long Beach State, nor does it touch on where the program is today.

But the documentary does mention the NCAA's attempts to snare Tarkanian while he was coaching the 49ers. It also gives the viewer a quick view of where the Runnin' Rebels were before he arrived.

The interview subjects, which included Augmon, Anthony, Tarkanian, several journalists and an NCAA investigator were deliberate and sincere in their opinions.

Duke coach Mike Kryzyzewski, talk show host and Las Vegas native Jimmy Kimmel and former UNLV star Reggie Theus were also the subject of interviews.

Opponents of UNLV are likely to view the film as slighted slanted in favor of Tarkanian. But it's worth noting that the program has never been stripped of its Final Four appearances, nor has it had any of its records vacated.

It's also worth noting that the NCAA settled a harrassment suit filed by Tarkanian out of court for $2.5 million in 1998.

Watching clips of those Runnin Rebel teams will bring back fond memories of one of college basketball's greatest stories. Kudos to executive producers Ross Greenburg and Rick Bernstein for shining a light on of one of the most exciting eras in college basketball. 

New York Sports