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September 30, 2014

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Thomas & Mack Turns 25:

One eventful edifice

UNLV arena has hosted stars, stood test of time

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Justin M. Bowen

The arch sign signals the main entrance to the Thomas & Mack Center on UNLV’s campus. The building is home to UNLV’s basketball teams and hosted everything from rock concerts, to presidential debates, to the National Finals Rodeo.

Thomas & Mack Center

A sliver of Jerry Tarkanian court is visible from behind a curtain to the loading dock area of the Thomas & Mack Center. Launch slideshow »

Richard Box attended a recent basketball practice inside the Thomas & Mack Center and gawked up at the big UNLV logo at center court, thousands of red seats and a 1990 national championship banner.

Box played forward on the Sidney Green squads, just after a Final Four run and just before the arena opened in 1983.

“When I was being recruited, the word we got was that the arena would be ready by my junior year,” Box said.

After he graduated, he played in an alumni game that included former UCLA forward David Greenwood, who had been recruited by ex-Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian.

Box talked to Greenwood after the alumni game.

“Speaking how he was recruited by UNLV, he said he was glad to see ‘you guys’ finally starting that arena,” Box said. “He said when he was being recruited by UNLV he was told that by his junior year it would be done.

“He said, ‘How many years have they been telling recruits that?”

It might have taken a while to get built, but the building has become a storied venue in Las Vegas and one to be feared by visiting college basketball teams.

The arena that turns 25 on Nov. 21 has played host to circuses, rodeos, monster trucks, Frank Sinatra, Bono, concerts of all types and the best team in college basketball during the 1989-90 season.

“It is the fruit of the labor of guys like Elburt Miller and the ‘Hardway Eight,’ those guys that came and paved the way,” Box said. “They’re the ones who put UNLV basketball on the map.”

Box told current Rebels point guard Derrick Jasper, a transfer from Kentucky who must sit out this season, that he came to UNLV because of a game he watched on television in high school.

The Rebels used their running style to beat San Francisco.

“When I look at this building and that Wall of Fame by the locker room, the legacy that’s been built, it’s a real honor to know you were a part of it,” Box said. “But those guys are the ones who laid the foundation for this place right here.

“Teams have added to it. And coach Lon Kruger has added to a solid foundation. I’m glad to see a couple face lifts. It’s held up well. This is home.”

Kruger has attended various non-basketball events at the Thomas & Mack Center.

“The foresight 25 years ago was pretty good,” Kruger said. “I think it’s a terrific building. When you think about all the things that have gone on in here, from basketball to boxing to the PBR and NFR, it’s a pretty good history.”

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