My earliest recollection of Glen Gondrezick, who will be posthumously inducted into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame on Friday at The Dollar Loan Center, occurred in 1977. Not surprisingly, it came with a collision and a floor burn.
A buddy and I drove from the badlands of New Mexico to Tucson, Arizona, where the Rebels were playing Bill Cartwright and No. 1 San Francisco in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Dons had won 29 consecutive games before losing at Notre Dame in their regular-season finale, and they were losing big to UNLV when this hard-nosed guy named GONDO (according to bold letters on the back of his No. 25 jersey) stole the ball.
He was wearing short shorts and high socks and had let his hair grow out — or had it permed — to fit in with the other Rebels who were sporting majestic Afros.
Gondo soared for another dunk, only to be flagrantly fouled from behind. Despite striking the McKale Center hardwood with a sickening thud, he returned after halftime and finished with 21 points in UNLV’s 121-95 victory.
I remember the long drive back to New Mexico, and marveling about the ease with which the Rebels had handled San Francisco and the circumference of Reggie Theus’ hair.
And that Gondo guy, for the way he got up after rolling off the table like a grapefruit.
Fifteen years after leading UNLV to its first Final Four appearance, that Gondo guy and Ken Korach began teaming up on Rebels broadcasts. The caliber of halftime guests immediately improved, Korach said.
“When we were in Cincinnati, we got Oscar Robertson. We had Dr. J (Julius Erving), we had Jerry West. Because of Gondo’s contacts in the NBA, he knew these people,” Korach said of his sidekick and Boulder, Colorado, native, who spent six seasons with the Knicks and his (near) hometown Nuggets.
“But he didn’t rest on his laurels as a former player. He worked hard at it. He prepared, he wanted to get good. We became really close, and it was a great ride.”
Travis Gondrezick had just turned 13 when his father died at age 53 in 2009 of complications from heart transplant surgery. The two didn’t talk a lot about Gondo’s playing days outside of perusing a few grainy YouTube clips from back in the day.
“An interesting look, for sure,” he said of pop’s short shorts, high socks and flowing mane.
“Everyone knows him in a way. But for the people who don’t really know him (outside of basketball), the biggest thing would be what a caring guy he was,” the 26-year-old said about social media messages he still receives from those whose lives his dad impacted.
“Of course, when it happened, being so young, that was very, very hard on me.”
I told him that when his dad died, it was very, very hard on a lot of us.
Heart of a champion
Some 30 years after he got off the deck against San Francisco, Gondo collapsed at home and sliced his head open on a dresser. Ironically, the heart of the man who was most noted for it during his UNLV playing days had started to fail.
After he climbed off the deck again and was told he would need a transplant, we agreed to meet. He said I could bring my notebook.
“I guess the hardest thing to deal with is I used to be Superman,” he said of his failing health. “Then I was Lois Lane. Now I’m Jimmy Olsen.”
After that, we’d occasionally get together to watch a game on TV.
I don’t recall who won or, for that matter, much of what we talked about. But Gondo always kept the refrigerator in his man cave stocked with a couple of six packs of the brand of beer I fancied, and that seemed way more important to me.
He’d put it next to a case (or so) of his that he was not allowed to drink because of his health. He’d tease me about being a responsible drinker. I’d tease him about the socks and the hair.
When Glen Gondrezick goes into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame on Friday, I hope to tell somebody about that. And of being in Tucson the day he leaped over Bill Cartwright and No. 1 San Francisco in a single bound.
Hall of Fame
What: Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony
When: Friday; reception at 5:30 p.m. and dinner and ceremony at 7
Where: The Dollar Loan Center
Class: Former Las Vegas Stars pitcher Larry Brown; former National Finals Rodeo general manager Shawn Davis; former UNLV basketball player Glen Gondrezick; former Durango and UNLV baseball player Ryan Ludwick; former Bishop Gorman running back DeMarco Murray; former Cimarron-Memorial and Paralympian snowboarder Amy Purdy.