1955-2009:

Glen Gondrezick: A life so full, taken so soon

Proud UNLV Rebel, devoted dad, affable soul, and this sports writer’s friend

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Steve Marcus

Glen Gondrezick

Gondo

Glen Gondrezick, days after receiving a transplanted heart. Launch slideshow »

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  • Glen Gondrezick talks about how much prayers meant to him. (Oct. 2008)
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  • Gondrezick talks about what he's looking forward to. (Oct. 2008)
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  • Gondrezick talks about reaching out his donor's family. (Oct. 2008)
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Sun Blog

For a guy who had been there, done that, Glen Gondrezick never was one to live in the past.

He was one of UNLV’s great ones, good enough to have played six seasons in the NBA. But he hardly ever talked about the glory days. There were few reminders of his basketball career on display in his northwest Las Vegas home.

In his den there was a big photo that somebody had given him. It showed him scoring a basket over the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. There was another one of his young son, Travis, with Shaquille O’Neal. Gondo really liked that one.

He had his UNLV jersey framed and hung it over the big, comfy, brown leather sofa. He was proud to have been a Rebel. Otherwise, that was about it. When I asked about his Knicks and Nuggets jerseys and the rest of his basketball stuff, he said it was boxed up in the garage somewhere.

The only other photo I remember was in the hallway. It showed him in full uniform during his playing days, sitting on the Rebels’ bench between Eddie Owens and Lewis Brown.

Gondo was the one stuffing his face with popcorn.

I loved that photo. That was the Gondo I got to know during the past 14 months, the one who never took anything too seriously even though he had every right to, the one who was full of mischief and full of ... well, you know. But he was full of life, too, even after he drew The Short Straw. He was only 53 when he died from complications from heart transplant surgery Monday, and although that’s way too soon for anybody to go, Gondo would be the first to tell you that he did not get cheated.

Our paths first crossed in 1977 in Tucson, although he doesn’t remember it, probably because he was playing against the No. 1-ranked San Francisco Dons in the NCAA Tournament and I was watching from the seats at McKale Center. And probably because he also got knocked unconscious by one of the Dons who committed a flagrant foul while Gondo was driving to the basket, hellbent for leather or at least a couple of free throws.

Years later I mentioned that play while interviewing Gondo for a story about that first UNLV Final Four team. I remember he wrote me a thank-you note after the story came out, which is very unusual for a guy who has been there, done that. Then we’d say hello to each other at games. But that was the last time we spoke at length, until he got sick.

Actually, he was sick when we talked for that story, although I didn’t know it. Hardly anybody did. Gondo had been diagnosed with heart disease nearly a decade before he approached me at last year’s Mountain West Conference tournament and asked if I would write about his situation, because by then his condition had worsened to the point that people were asking questions. So I did and we became friends, or whatever you call it when one guy visits another guy and watches sports on TV while sitting on the big, comfy, brown leather sofa in the other guy’s den.

When he found out I drank Bud Light, Gondo made sure the refrigerator in his garage always had a few (dozen) cold ones, to go with the few (dozen) cold bottles of Coors Light that he couldn’t drink, because guys who need a heart transplant to survive are not supposed to drink beer, or even Coors Light. I’d come over and watch a game and make a little dent in the Bud Light and Gondo would make fun of me for drinking so responsibly. Then the next time I’d come over, the Bud Light reserve would be fully replenished.

On another full-of-mischief day, he called and, impersonating a paramedic, said that he had died, and that I should come over to claim the Bud Light in his refrigerator before they shut the power off. Bud Light became a code word for when he wasn’t feeling well or when I sensed he wasn’t feeling well. “If you still want that Bud Light, you’d better get over here soon,” he’d say. Or I’d call and say the Cubs are playing the Cardinals on TV today. “That Bud Light still cold?”

Then he called late one night, and he didn’t sound sick this time. He was headed to UCLA because they had finally found a heart.

That was in September. A few weeks later he was back at courtside, analyzing UNLV games on the radio just as he had done for the previous 16 seasons. He looked great. “This is the guy who just had a heart transplant?” my sister asked incredulously after meeting Gondo during the Rebels’ last regular-season road trip at San Diego State. She’s in the medical field, and couldn’t believe how healthy he looked.

That was about the time he started feeling bad again. I saw Gondo just two more times, at the Mountain West Conference tournament and then at his home a couple of weeks later. He was feeling lousy again. We watched North Carolina beat the snot out of somebody. I drank a couple of Bud Lights. Maybe I’ll stop by for the Final Four, I told him. If not, baseball season will be starting soon.

We chatted on the phone the next day. He was going back to UCLA for some more tests. Let me know how it goes, I said.

That was the last time we spoke. He left a voice mail on my cell phone Monday. He said he was in intensive care at St. Rose and they had him sedated pretty good ...

... and then he said goodbye.

He was supposed to get another five years, minimum. More than 70 percent of heart transplant patients do. Maybe he’d get 10 years. Maybe he’d even live to be 70. That would be more than enough time. Maybe he’d even get married again. Maybe he’d live to see Travis graduate from high school and college and start a family of his own. One man lived 29 years with a transplanted heart.

You could eat a lot of popcorn sitting on a lot of benches in 29 years.

Instead, Gondo got one more basketball season.

Last night I woke with a start. The clock said 4:22 a.m. I wondered if anybody had fed Gabby, his little brown dog.

•••

A memorial service for Glen Gondrezick will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center at UNLV.

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  1. A heartfelt tribute to a great guy. Well spoken (written), my friend.

  2. Rest in Peace now my longtime friend Gondo

    My Sympathy to those you leave behind

  3. 1978 Graduate. As a student went to all home basketball games in the Convention Center. Attended the games in Tucson,Provo and Atlanta..1977 Final 4 Team SHOULD be ranked as one of the best teams in NCAA history. 3 Smiths,Moffett,Owens, Theus and Brown.High scoring and great defense. Gondo was a great player for the Runnin Rebs but also was a good guy. Enjoyed his playing style and hustle and as an announcer.He willbe missed. Big part of my college experience and memeories

  4. Ron K.,

    Gondo deserves more than just a memorial from the school and program he helped build.

    How about kick-starting a campaign to name some part of the Mack for Gondo? Maybe the Glen Gondrezick Concourse?

    Don't know off hand what is or not 'named' at the Mack right now, other than 'Tarkanian Court'. But if anybody deserves this honor, it's Gondo.

  5. As a young boy growing up in Las Vegas in the 70's, the UNLV Runnin' Rebels and guys like Glen Gondrezick were heroes to me.

    I never met Mr. Gondrezick but I loved him as a hard-nosed player and enjoyed his color commentary on radio broadcasts of UNLV men's basketball.

    As a native and proud Las Vegan, I always appreciate someone like Gondrezick who made this community his home and was proud of his association with UNLV and Las Vegas.

    My thoughts and deepest sympathies go out to Mr. Gondrezick's children, family and friends. This is a big loss not only for the UNLV community but for all who call Las Vegas home.

    Thanks to the Las Vegas Sun and Ron Kantowski for sharing a little more about Mr. Gondrezick's life, his sense of humor, and all around goodness. His heart may have given out at the end, but the memories I have of him and his legacy in our city will live on forever.

  6. Thanks to all of you, and to so many other Rebels fans -- and others -- who responded to me directly.

    Gondo loved it when people would express their well-wishes in these forums.

    He struck me as a proud man, but not too proud to admit that it was nice to be loved and appreciated by so many.

    Someone a lot more profound than me when asked about death and dying said: "We all die. The goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something that will."

    I think we all can agree that Gondo accomplished that.

  7. Gondo told me about 1 1/2 years ago that if he could take his jersey from the rafters and replace it with Robert Smith's, he would. That was Gondo. RIP to the quintessential Runnin' Rebel.