GLENDALE—Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region announced on Tuesday that it will honor legendary basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian with the “People’s Champion” Award at its annual banquet taking place on Saturday, November 30 in Hollywood, California.
The date was September 7, 2013. “Tark The Shark,” as he had come to be known throughout his 43-year coaching career, was finally inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Certainly, the honor was a decade overdue, but Tarkanian finally got what he deserved. It was a proud day, not only for Tarkanian’s family, friends and grandchildren, who all surrounded their “papa” on that momentous day, but also for the collective Armenian people, a people which Tarkanian never forgot as he rose to fame and became one of the best all-time coaches in basketball history. Just as Lois Tarkanian, Jerry’s wife noted that all the work that had led to Jerry’s honor was a family achievement, Jerry’s success is an achievement for our greater Armenian nation as well.
Jerry Tarkanian was born August 8, 1930 to Haighouhie “Rose” and George Tarkanian. Haighouhie and George were both born in Armenia. As was so poignantly stated during his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Tarkanian described himself as “the eldest son of an Armenian immigrant, whose mother fled her homeland on horseback with only the clothes on her back after her father and brother were beheaded by Turkish soldiers” during the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Haighouhie eventually met her husband in Lebanon, where they married and immigrated to Euclid, Ohio and had their first-born child Jerry.
Jerry attended Pasadena City College and later transferred to Fresno State where he played basketball for the Bulldogs in 1954 and 1955. After graduating in 1955, he pursued higher education and earned a master’s degree in educational management from the University of Redlands. His children speak fondly of stories passed down by their father of fellow Armenians in Pasadena and elsewhere who assisted him in various ways when he was a young unknown and in need. Tarkanian’s appreciation for the loyalty of his fellow Armenians has never wavered.
His early career consisted of coaching high school basketball in California in 1956. From 1959 through 1961, he coached at Antelope Valley Joint Union High School in Lancaster, California. From 1961 through 1968, he coached college ball at Riverside City College and then Pasadena City College. Impressively, he coached his teams to four straight California junior college championships. Tarkanian moved to Division I basketball as coach at Long Beach State from 1968 through 1973, where he was among the first coaches to pioneer the use of junior college athletes. Under his leadership, Long Beach State soon became a regional power.
Tarkanian’s fame rose to great heights when he went on to achieve immense success at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), coaching the Running Rebels from 1973 to 1992, where his teams were known for their remarkable defense and up-tempo styling. He took his UNLV teams to four Final Four Regional Championships in 1977, 1987, 1990 and 1991, as well as a 1990 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. The ambitious kid who grew up the child of Armenian immigrant parents had made it!
In 1977, Tarkanian was offered the Los Angeles Lakers head-coaching job, but declined, opting instead to continue coaching college basketball, where he was known to take chances on talented, yet troubled players who no one else would believe in. He also had a short stint coaching the San Antonio Spurs before returning to UNLV.
At the end of his coaching career, he returned to coaching to lead his alma mater, Fresno State, to six straight 20-win seasons before retiring in 2002 and concluding a coaching career that garnered international fame and glory.
As the ANCA-WR prepares to honor him, there is a famous quote of Jerry Tarkanian worthy of mention. In the 1991-92 season, which was Tarkanian’s last year at UNLV, various sports writers were constantly hounding him. Tarkanian in his last four years at UNLV had recruited an Armenian-American, Bryan Emerzian, on the UNLV basketball team, on a basketball scholarship. Tarkanian was asked by one sportswriter why he had Emerzian on his team, since he was a bench warmer and saw little playing time. The reporter continued by asking whether Emerzian was on the team because he was Armenian, implying favoritism. Tarkanian in his typical form responded, “Why of course not! It is because I am Armenian.”
“The Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region is honored to bestow Coach Jerry Tarkanian with the ANCA’s “People’s Champion Award,” not only for his well-deserved Hall of Fame induction, but also as a proud son of Armenia who has used every opportunity to remind the world about how the Armenian Genocide has deeply affected his own family and how he has channeled that experience into perseverance and a sense of justice in accomplishing so much in his own life” said Nora Hovsepian, Chairwoman of the ANCA-WR.”
Just as his mother who fled the Armenian Genocide, Tarkanian has lived his life and has always been accomplished in overcoming long odds. He stood up for his players in good times and bad, never caving in when battling the NCAA for what he believed was right, and delivering a winning team to the UNLV, which before his arrival in the early 1970’s was not even conceivable. Many credit his ability to connect withinner-city youth and make them winners to his open, accessible, and non-judgmental nature.
Jerry Tarkanian is married to Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian. Together, they have four children and 11 grandchildren. One of their sons, Danny Tarkanian, was an Academic All-American Honorable Mention college basketball player while playing for Jerry at UNLV. Together with his father, they started a basketball school in Las Vegas named “The Tarkanian Basketball Academy.” His colorful autobiography, “Runnin’ Rebel: Shark Tales of “Extra Benefits,” Frank Sinatra and Winning it All” was released in October 2005 and was a major national seller.
The ANCA-WR banquet will take place on November 30 at The Ray Dolby Ballroom, the site of the Oscar’s Govenors’ Ball. Legendary chef Wolfgang Puck will be catering a special menu for the ANCA-WR Bamqut. Individuals who are interested in attending the banquet and Grassroots Conference are encouraged to contact the ANCA-WR office at (818) 500-1918 or purchase tickets online at ItsMySeat.com/ANCAWR.
The Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.