Runnin' Rebels, bitten ears and 'Fan Man': Top 10 moments in Las Vegas sports history

Raiders owner gives walk-through of new stadium (1:58)

Raiders owner Mark Davis gives a tour of Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. (1:58)

LAS VEGAS -- Borrowing from that old yarn about a tree falling in the forest and no one being around to hear it, what happens if they hold an iconic sporting night and fans are not allowed to attend? Did it really happen? We're about to find out.

Because with the newly minted Las Vegas Raiders welcoming the world to Allegiant Stadium, appropriately enough on the corner of Dean Martin Drive and Al Davis Way ("a confluence of Raiders and Las Vegas history meeting at the stadium," Raiders owner Mark Davis told ESPN.com) for Monday Night Football against the New Orleans Saints, they'll be doing it sans Raider Nation. Or any denizens from any other football country, so to speak.

When it comes to Las Vegas, it will be one of the top sporting moments in the city's history. Yes, even if only a few are there to bear witness. Here, then, is one journalist who happens to also be a UNLV alum's take on the top 10 moments in Las Vegas sports history:

1. UNLV wins 1990 men's basketball national title

As far as homegrown events go, nothing tops Tark The Shark's Band of Runnin' Rebels dominating Duke 103-73 on April 2, 1990, in a game that still holds records for most points scored and largest margin of victory in an NCAA men's basketball title game. A championship parade stretched from Fremont Street down the Las Vegas Strip to the Thomas & Mack Center on campus. The Rebels, led by Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and Anderson Hunt, would ride a 45-game winning streak into the 1991 Final Four before Duke got its revenge.

Johnson, Augmon and Anthony would all be selected in the top 12 picks of the 1991 NBA Draft, with Johnson going No. 1 overall. Between 1986-87 and 1990-91, UNLV went 163-22 and played in three Final Fours (the Rebels also played in the 1977 Final Four). Coach Jerry Tarkanian, who arrived in Sin City in 1973 and was as big in town as any member of the Rat Pack, was forced to resign amid controversy following the 1991-92 season. UNLV has won only three NCAA tournament games since.

2. The Raiders win the vote to move to Las Vegas

It was unthinkable a few years prior, what with the NFL not even allowing Las Vegas to air a commercial on the Super Bowl broadcast advertising itself as a vacation destination due to that whole gambling aspect. But Raiders owner Mark Davis, who had long ago purchased the Web domain www.lasvegasraiders.com and had a cell phone number with a 702 area code, came through on his promise to make NFL owners an offer they could not refuse.

Indeed, on March 27, 2017, Davis won the vote 31-1 -- with only the Miami Dolphins dissenting -- and Raiders fans gathered at the "WELCOME TO FABULOUS LAS VEGAS" sign on the Strip to celebrate. It made for a three-year-long awkward goodbye to Oakland before the team officially rebranded itself the Las Vegas Raiders on Jan. 22, 2020 -- ironically enough, the 36th anniversary of the team's most recent Super Bowl win. The late Al Davis used to celebrate his birthday, July 4, in Las Vegas. A $750 million hotel tax helped the Raiders build $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium, which will play host to the New Orleans Saints in Monday's grand opening.

3. The Vegas Golden Knights land with an emotional home opener

The NHL expansion franchise embedded itself into the community immediately with a somber and memorable tribute to the victims and first responders of the Route 91 Festival mass shooting before the Golden Knights' inaugural home game at T-Mobile Arena on Oct. 10, 2017, nine days after the attack. The Knights would retire the No. 58 to commemorate the number of lives lost in the attack. And when the team played, it played better and advanced further than anyone would imagine, all the way to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, where it fell in five games to the Washington Capitals.

The Knights offered a blueprint of how to run a professional franchise in Las Vegas for the Raiders. Yes, just win, baby.

4. Mike Tyson takes a bite out of Evander Holyfield

Las Vegas had long been the fight capital of the world but none, at least in this corner, were as iconic and, well, disturbing as what went down in Tyson-Holyfield II on June 28, 1997, for the WBA title at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Seven months prior, Holyfield had upset Tyson with an 11th-round stoppage, and after a series of headbutts from Holyfield in the rematch, a frustrated Tyson bit Holyfield's right ear in a third-round clinch and spit out the piece of cartilage onto the canvas. After another clinch, Tyson bit Holyfield's left ear, though it remained intact. Tyson was disqualified after the round and a near riot ensued. For his troubles, Tyson was fined $3 million and had his boxing license revoked for more than a year by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Oh, Tyson and Holyfield are friends today.

5. Kareem skyhooks his way into the record books

Yes, it's true. The Captain set the NBA scoring record in Sin City inside UNLV's less-than-four-months-old Thomas & Mack Center on April 5, 1984. Wait, what? Yes, the Utah Jazz played a handful of regular-season games in Las Vegas and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his Los Angeles Lakers were in town that night. Abdul-Jabbar's signature skyhook from the right block came off a pass from Magic Johnson and over the outstretched arms of Mark Eaton with less than nine minutes to play in the game to eclipse Wilt Chamberlain's record of 31,419 points, which had stood since 1973.

Abdul-Jabbar would retire in 1989 with 38,387 points, which is still the record. The Jazz calling Las Vegas home for a spell portended the NBA summer league setting up shop in 2004 and that wild NBA All-Star Game Weekend in 2007.

6. Evel Knievel jumps the Caesars Palace fountains ... and crashes

The daredevil motorcycle rider had one hell of a wipeout on Dec. 31, 1967, missing his landing on the 141-foot attempt for his most memorable stunt gone wrong. Per reports, Knievel suffered 40 broken bones, including a crushed pelvis and femur with fractures to his hip, wrist and both ankles, not to mention a concussion and lengthy hospital stay. The jump is memorialized in a painting hanging in Allegiant Stadium. Knievel never tried the jump again, but his son Robbie accomplished it with much fanfare on April 14, 1989.

7. Tiger Woods announces his presence

For a brief moment, Woods considered playing collegiate golf at UNLV before heading to Stanford. At least, that's what the Rebels believed. No matter, Woods' first PGA win came in Las Vegas on Oct. 6, 1996, in his fifth PGA start. The 20-year-old Woods, who shot a 9-under-par 63 in the second round, beat Davis Love III by shooting a two-putt par on the first hole of sudden death and claimed a check for $297,000. And the legend of Tiger Woods was born.

8. Danica Patrick races into history

On March 5, 2011, Patrick's fourth-place finish in the Sam's Town 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was the best finish for a woman in one of NASCAR's top three series, bettering the 62-year-old record set by Sara Christian, who finished fifth in Pittsburgh in 1949. Patrick, who initially gained fame on the IndyCar circuit, set the mark in her 16th NASCAR start. Her previous best NASCAR finish had been 14th a month earlier in Daytona, Florida.

9. Landing the National Finals Rodeo

December used to be a dead month for the gambling mecca as a destination city. Then Las Vegas pulled a coup in 1985 in getting the NFR to move to Sin City from Oklahoma City for a 10-day signature event that draws upward of 170,000 fans annually to the Thomas & Mack Center. The aptly named Super Bowl of rodeo is the final rodeo event of the PRCA season. But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and its effect on Las Vegas as a virus hotspot, the NFR is moving to Arlington, Texas -- which has looser health regulations -- in three months.

10. 'Fan Man' crashes Bowe-Holyfield II

James Miller, AKA Fan Man, falling out of the sky and into the ring ropes in the seventh round of the Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield rematch at Caesars Palace on Nov. 6, 1993, was the wildest thing to ever happen in a heavyweight title fight ... until Holyfield-Tyson II nearly four years later (see above). Miller had circled the outdoor arena for 10 minutes before his paraglider came crashing down, the parachute stuck in the overhead lights, his legs caught in the ropes.

Miller was dragged away and beaten by assorted security and fans. It resulted in a 21-minute delay (Holyfield would win via majority decision, 115-113, 115-114, 114-114) and stays in the hospital and jail for Miller, who claimed the crash was an accident, though he was charged with dangerous flying and released on $200 bail. A Raiders connection -- two months later, Miller flew about 1,000 feet over the team's playoff game against the Denver Broncos at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and was arrested upon landing.

10a. Local legends reach their apex

Yeah, I'm cheating a tad here, but sometimes 10 spots is not enough, and these "homegrown" icons deserve more than an honorable mention. Because Greg Maddux (Valley High School class of 1984) going into Cooperstown as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame's Class of 2014 is a big deal. Same with Jerry Tarkanian gaining inclusion into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, less than two years before his death. Then there's native Las Vegan Andre Agassi, as a No. 12 seed, beating Goran Ivanisevic to win the men's singles title at Wimbledon in 1992. And, of course, adopted son Floyd Mayweather Jr. beating UFC champ Conor McGregor on Aug. 26, 2017, at T-Mobile Arena to improve his record to 50-0, one win better than Rocky Marciano.

Honorable mention

  • Aces forward A'ja Wilson being named the WNBA MVP with 43 of 47 first-place votes on Sept. 17, 2020, along with the Aces being the league's top seed for the playoffs, probably should have cracked the Top 10. But the pandemic muted what should have been a grand celebration at Mandalay Bay, what with Wilson -- who was also the league's rookie of the year in 2018 -- and the Aces in the WNBA's bubble across the country in Florida.

  • College of Southern Nevada, led by 17-year-old Bryce Harper, advances to the 2010 Community College World Series Final Four.

  • Mountain Ridge Little League plays in the Little League World Series in 2014 and is named United States champion when Chicago Jackie Robinson West is forced to vacate wins.

  • The 2001 XFL season begins with great fanfare, as Las Vegas Outlaws running back Rod Smart introduces the world to "He Hate Me".

  • Female goaltender Manon Rhéaume suits up for the IHL Las Vegas Thunder in 1994.

  • Ronda Rousey and Amanda Nunes headline UFC 207, the first time two women made up the main event of an MMA card, on Dec. 30, 2016, with Nunes winning by TKO in 48 seconds at T-Mobile Arena.

  • Harper and Kris Bryant (Bonanza High School class of 2010) win consecutive National League MVP awards in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

  • Minor league baseball arrives in 1983 in the form of the Triple-A Las Vegas Stars, who have since been rebranded as the 51s and the Aviators and now play in neighboring Summerlin.

  • Pele and the New York Cosmos facing Eusebio and the Las Vegas Quicksilvers at Las Vegas Stadium in NASL play on April 9, 1977.