Jerry Tarkanian, now 82, will go into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame after a wait of far too long, enshrined in its Class of 2013 along with fellow college coaches Rick Pitino of Louisville, the newly crowned national champions; Guy Lewis of Houston; and North Carolina women's coach Sylvia Hatchell.
Tarkanian got into the Hall much later than he should have, much later than his 761 career college victories and a national championship merited. It was largely because he never had any warm and fuzzy feelings for the NCAA, dating back to his days at Long Beach State and through his tenure at UNLV and then Fresno State.
He was convinced that NCAA investigators targeted him and his teams. He railed against selective enforcement -- again, dating to his days at Long Beach State and his irritation with the things he felt UCLA and booster Sam Gilbert were getting away with -- and once memorably said, "The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky it'll probably slap another two years' probation on Cleveland State."
Let's face it: There were times during his tenure at UNLV that the Runnin' Rebels seemed to operate on the margins when it came to adherence to NCAA rules. But Tarkanian wasn't in it for the administrators' sensibilities. He was looking out for his players.
And could the man ever coach. We saw the first stirrings of it at Redlands (Calif.) High, where he won a league title, and then full throttle at Riverside (Calif.) City College, when Tark's teams were the first to win three straight state titles in the early 1960s and turned Tigers basketball into a community passion.
''I've been in the business over 50 years now, and I never had more fun than those three years with Jerry Tarkanian's teams," Los Angeles Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler said in an interview last year. "Jerry was one of the best basketball minds I've ever been around, before or since."
Tarkanian always had a soft spot for Riverside, even after leaving for a career that took him to Pasadena City College, then Long Beach State, then UNLV for 18 tumultuous yet amazingly successful seasons, then to Fresno State for a seven-season encore that ended in 2002.
He was perceived as a roll-out-the-balls coach when the high-scoring Runnin' Rebels were blitzing people during that era, but people didn't realize -- or ignored -- that those great offensive numbers all started with the pressure defense Tark insisted on.
(And forget his 20-game NBA sojourn with the San Antonio Spurs in 1992-93. That was a mistake, as Tarkanian and Spurs owner Red McCombs both eventually realized.)
Were there players on his rosters who were ill equipped academically for college? Undoubtedly. Were there players who might have pushed the boundaries of "extra benefits"? Perhaps.
But Tarkanian didn't pull any punches about what he was up against. "We got vanned," he once quipped when talking about a player he'd lost in a recruiting battle, suggesting that the school that won made sure the player's, uh, transportation needs were well taken care of.
With what we know now about how the NCAA's revenue streams dry up before reaching the athletes whose efforts produce those dollars -- and, not incidentally, how the NCAA's enforcement division operates in sometimes extra-legal ways, as the recent Miami and UCLA cases have shown -- Tarkanian's battles with the system were honorable, indeed.
He didn't allow the organization to muzzle him, and in fact the $2.5 million he received from the NCAA in 1998 to settle his lawsuit against the organization probably speaks even louder than anything he was willing to say.
This piece from veteran journalist Dave Kindred last month on the Sports On Earth website sums up the running battle between Tark and the NCAA, and how it probably kept him out of the Hall for years. As his wife, Lois, was quoted by Kindred:
''For thirty-some years, they presented themselves as these on-a-white-horse, holier-than-thou, highly-moral guys. All the time, they hounded us, never gave us any peace, and they had no reason to do it. Jerry's coaching friends told him he'd never get in the Hall of Fame unless he shut up about the NCAA. Well, he wouldn't shut up."
Finally, at long last, that wrong has been rectified. Welcome to the Hall, Tark.