HBO, ESPN look back at the college hoop landscape two decades ago through the prism of UNLV and Michigan

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Weaving a common thread of showmanship, cultural rebellion and NCAA sanctions, there’s an intriguing connection between two well-made college basketball-related documentaries that HBO and ESPN will debut this weekend.


Coming up on the 20th anniversary of UNLV’s last trip to the Final Four, HBO’s hour-long “Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV” (Saturday, 9:30 p.m.) examines the wild-west impact that Jerry Tarkanian had on what was once referred to “Tumbleweed Tech,” after he was lured from Long Beach State in 1973 and somehow survived a tumultuous tenure that caused him to vacate in 1992 after more violations and nasty media attention.

Current CBS college basketball analyst Greg Anthony, Tarkanian’s hard-nosed Vegas-native point guard who with Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon led the school to the 1990 national title, stands out as one of the strongest voices in the piece.

He talks at one point about how the national perception of the program was how “they thought we were thugs and idiots and dumb kids (who) didn’t deserve to be in school.” Anthony, for that matter, was the school’s president of the Young Republicans.

Commentary from comedian Jimmy Kimmel (who grew up in Vegas), Ross Porter (who followed Chick Hearn calling UNLV games on TV that were seen in L.A. from 1978-92) and USC cultural professor Todd Boyd add a cactus-pile of context.

As usual, HBO covers all the bases, and it got a thumbs-up from Tarkanian. In his Las Vegas Sun website blog, he wrote: “(HBO was) professional and fair. The story had to be done and they had a lot of guts for doing it . . . I would say 75 of the program was positive. For me, that is a pretty good percentage.”


Meanwhile, ESPN Film’s two-hour doc, “The Fab Five” (Sunday, 6 p.m., ESPN), lands with current network NBA analyst Jalen Rose as one of the executive producers and former University of Michigan teammates Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson listed as producers.

Seemingly picking up the story of college basketball where UNLV leaves it off — Duke knocks the Rebels off in the 1991 Final Four, and then meets up with Michigan the next season twice, including beating the Wolverines in the ’92 title game — the Fab 5 really was a two-year phenomonem but seemed like much longer.

Rose, Howard, King and Jackson are the focal points in explaining how 20 years ago they landed on the campus as five heralded freshmen who caused a seismic shift in the hoops world with fashion trends and cautionary tales of quick success.


Noticeably missing is Chris Webber. The analyst at NBA TV and TNT didn’t feel like talking on camera about either his ill-taken timeout in the ’93 title game, or address his relationship with booster Ed Martin that led to the firing of coach Steve Fisher and rescinding two championship game appearances.

“At this point in Chris’ life, he’s not ready to talk about what happened at that time,” Rose said. “It’s still a sore spot for him. (But) him not being a part of it in 2011 does not affect the integrity of (the documentary) at all. It’s still told in a truthful manner.”

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