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July 29, 2014

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Thomas & Mack Turns 25:

No. 20: ‘Trotting’ in family entertainment

Globetrotters helped shape Thomas & Mack as a family-friendly events center

Beyond the Sun

Editor's Note: In conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the Thomas & Mack Center's opening on Nov. 21, 1983, the Sun is celebrating the building's colorful history with a top 25 countdown - to No. 1 on Nov. 21, 2008 - of the biggest events held inside the arena located on UNLV's campus.

On Jan. 25, 1984, a tall man, wearing the most colorful basketball uniform since the old ABA folded, chased another tall man all around the basketball court at the Thomas & Mack Center.

He was holding a big pail of water -- so it seemed.

You know what happened next. Just as the first tall man was ready to provide the second tall man with an early shower, the first tripped -- and the contents of his pail went flying all over a little boy and little girl sitting at courtside nearby.

It turned out it was only confetti in the pail -- not water! -- and the little boy and little girl, who probably were witnessing their first Harlem Globetrotters game, laughed and laughed and laughed.

The debut of the Harlem Globetrotters was a significant event in the Thomas & Mack's evolution from basketball arena into family entertainment venue, using one to bridge the other.

Disney on Ice, Sesame Street Live, the Ringling Brothers Circus, Muppets on Tour, the Ice Capades, the Rugrats ... it wasn't long before Big Birds and Little Mermaids and a cuddly giant purple dinosaur that answers to "Barney" would transform the sports and concert arena on the corner of Maryland Parkway and Tropicana Ave. into a giant fun house for kids and grown-ups alike.

It was the Globetrotters, the Clown Princes of basketball, who started it all.

And I'd be willing to bet that Fred "Curly" Neal can still dribble circles around the Washington Generals.

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