As the Golden Knights’ inaugural NHL season progressed into a championship run, comparisons to the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels basketball teams of the early 1990s came naturally.
Many saw the Rebels’ pair of back-to-back Final Four runs as the last time a local team captured the entire city’s attention in the same way that the Golden Knights achieved with this year’s Stanley Cup Final appearance. UNLV won the national championship in 1990, before losing to Duke in the semifinals in 1991. The Golden Knights fell 4-1 to the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final.
One star of those UNLV teams, Greg Anthony, sees the similarities.
“It’s very comparable because that’s Las Vegas’ team,” Anthony said. “There’s a sense of pride when it’s your team. It’s been rare, other than that national title team where the entire city is pumped up. So, I think it’s very comparable to the experience that those fans had when we won it.”
Anthony was born and raised in Las Vegas, and graduated from Rancho High. He currently works as a basketball analyst from Turner Sports, leaving him to mostly follow the Golden Knights through social media.
Anthony looks back fondly on the glory years of UNLV basketball and recalls it putting Las Vegas in the sports spotlight — just like the Golden Knights have done for Las Vegas as the city’s first major professional sports franchise.
“The thing about Runnin’ Rebel basketball back then, it was always the catalyst for the city,” he said. “It was the one positive aspect of putting Las Vegas on the map. Back then, it was still thought of as Sin City for the gaming, it wasn’t as positive of an attitude. So, winning that national championship kind of validated the city to the rest of the country that we were relevant.”
Anthony said the emergence of professional sports in Las Vegas was unimaginable when he lived in town. As a child, he never fathomed his hometown growing into a professional sports hub.
“We didn’t have a lot of high schools; UNLV basketball was kind of it,” he said. “Now you look at the growth and you have the Raiders coming in and the Golden Knights all that’s happened and transpired over the last 25 years is incredible.”
Despite the generational gap in between the Rebels’ and the Knights’ title runs, Anthony said the fandom surrounding the two teams was similar.
Las Vegas knows how to treat winners, and sports teams are no different. Anthony, whose jersey now hangs in the Thomas & Mack Center rafters, remembers the city embracing the Rebels as if they were royalty.
“We were, in our own way, kind of rock stars in Las Vegas because that was something that the city had never experienced — winning at the highest level,” he said. “That sense of pride carried on. I mean, to this day, people still talk to me about that team all over the country.”
Anthony doesn’t see the Rebels’ fan base hurting from the emergence of the Golden Knights, even with the former mired in a rebuilding mode over the past couple years. He believes the city can support multiple sports teams because of the way it’s grown over the years.
“It’s a big city, you can multitask,” Anthony said. “You can be a passionate fan of the Rebels, Golden Knights or the Raiders, they’re all your team. There’s no difference than if you in Los Angeles. You’re a Dodgers fan, a Lakers Fan, a Rams fan and a Kings fan. You can be a fan of all.”
Anthony understands what the Golden Knights’ players went through heading into this season after being chosen in the NHL expansion draft last summer. Anthony was taken in the 1995 NBA expansion draft by the Vancouver Grizzlies, after he spent his first four professional years with the New York Knicks.
Anthony’s expansion experience wasn’t as ideal as the Golden Knights’ proved.
“You’re excited initially because you feel like you’ll be able to go there and be part of something positive,” he said. “That wasn’t the case for me with the Grizzlies. we were horrible. We won our first two games and then ended up with a 15-67 record, so it wasn’t as much fun. With (the Golden Knights), to have a chance to win it all, that’s incredible.”
Anthony’s busy schedule covering the NBA for Turner Sports precluded him from making a Golden Knights’ game this year, but he plans to change that next season.
“I feel that I owe to them to come out and show my support after the season they’ve had,” he said. “I’m always going to be from Las Vegas and I am going to support the Golden Knights. Absolutely, next year I’ll take in at least one game.”