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The Shark Attacked
In the end, UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, who suffered NCAA slings and Supreme Court arrows, was undone by a home snapshot.
Last Friday, Tarkanian announced that he would retire after the 1991-92 season, forgoing the final year on his contract, which provides for a $204,000 salary, the use of two university cars and 223 season tickets—a package worth close to $600,000. He said he wanted no settlement and that he was only doing "what was best for the university."
His decision came 12 days after publication of a 1989 photo of three of his players, Anderson Hunt, Moses Scurry and David Butler, sitting in a hot tub with Richard (the Fixer) Perry, a part-time Las Vegas resident twice convicted of rigging sports events.
The photo appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which reportedly paid $5,000 for it to an unnamed source. By Tarkanian's own admission, the publication of the photo and the ensuing publicity forced his hand. "I feel like part of my heart has been ripped out," Tarkanian said hours after announcing his decision. As he sat slumped behind his desk, looking weary and chewing on throat lozenges, Tarkanian was asked if he had been pressured to resign. "I figured out that something had to be done," he said. "It was that hot tub thing. It never stopped."
The hot tub photograph, which was reportedly shot by Perry's wife at the time, Joanne, was taken months after Tarkanian says he warned his players to stay away from Perry. Perry had been convicted in connection with fixed harness races in the early 1970's and in the Boston College point-shaving scandal a decade later.
The snapshot corroborated earlier reports that Perry socialized with Rebel players. The newspaper also ran a photo of him playing basketball with the three players and two other pictures of Perry sitting behind the UNLV bench during a game last December.
His ties to the Rebels have been under scrutiny since 1986, when Perry, who coaches youth basketball in New York during the summer, recruited the oft-troubled Lloyd Daniels, a New York City high school star, to UNLV. Perry also provided bail money for Daniels after the player was arrested for trying to buy crack in 1987. And according to a 1989 TIME magazine article, Perry gave Scurry and Butler $100 each during a lunch at Caesars Palace. Tarkanian insists he did not know Perry's background until that article appeared, and it was then that he issued his warning.
Perry has made a statement denying any wrongdoing involving the Vegas players. But Henry Hill, an organized-crime figure who was associated with Perry in the Boston College fixes, told SI's Kristina Rebelo last week that he wondered whether Perry's relationships with the UNLV players were similar to those with the BC players. "Richard does everything for a reason," Hill said by phone. "He wouldn't even talk to a player unless he had something going."
Perry's motive for befriending the players remains a question. Scurry and Butler say that they know Perry only as a summer coach. (Hunt has been unavailable for comment.) For his part, Tarkanian vehemently denies any suggestion that his players or coaches shaved points. "But," said Tarkanian's attorney, Alan Jones, last week, "how do you fight the perception?"