The Vegas Golden Knights are now into the semi-finals of the NHL tournament.
For a life-long Nevadan who grew up knowing that the rest of the world laughed at Las Vegas, thought of Las Vegas as a hellhole—why else wouldn’t a professional, the hockey team’s success is sweet vengeance.
John L. Smith also says the memory of Jerry Tarkanian's Rebel teams remains strong with longtime residents, but the Knights are bringing together all those who have moved here since.
“It is an overwhelming sense that the town is behind something again," he said, "Not since the days of Jerry Tarkanian and the Runnin’ Rebels has there been this kind of feeling.”
Smith said Las Vegas has a bit of a chip on its shoulder when it comes to professional sports. We've often hosted big events but until the Golden Knights were born we didn't have a major team we could call our own.
Smith counts himself part of that new base of hockey fans.
“I grew up in a town where the only time you saw ice was you either went to the Ice Capades or the Ice Palace or you just see ice in your glass when you ordered a scotch.”
Now, like most of the city, he's cheering the Knights to victory.
Smith said the franchise also came at the right time. They started playing just a few weeks after the massacre on the Las Vegas Strip that shocked the country but shook Las Vegas deeply.
“What this gives people in the wake of Oct. 1 is a reason to smile,” he said.
And while many years of healing remain ahead of us, the Golden Knights have provided a fun and positive diversion.
“Rooting for the home team, there is pretty good feeling about that,” Smith said.
That is not all. Smith notes that Las Vegas is still a big boomtown filled with people from elsewhere. The Golden Knights have been part of bringing the community together and they've proven a lot of people wrong.
“To have a team that is turning the league on its wallet by winning and winning in high style.”
(Editor's note: This story originally aired May 2018)
John L. Smith, longtime Nevada journalist
You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.