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October 19, 2014

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Thomas & Mack Turns 25:

Memories plentiful for Mack and me

Sun columnist shares sentiments of storied arena

Image

Ethan Miller / Las Vegas Sun

The author has seen his fair share of electrifying moments inside the Thomas & Mack Center. This lightning strike came courtesy of a thunderstorm in August of 2001.

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 »

When people ask what makes the Thomas & Mack Center special, I tell them to enjoy their stay at Imperial Palace. And don't forget to tip.

Obviously, if you live here, you have probably seen a basketball game there. And if you've seen a basketball game there, you know what makes it special.

I remember watching a game with a tourist who has never stayed at the Imperial Palace, probably because she has the same last name as me. She prefers our guest room or a suite at Mandalay Bay to the IP when it comes to her lodging needs.

Anyway, when they dimmed the lights before the game started and fireworks started going off above the baskets, I'll never forget what she said when the lights came back up and the smoke, which was hanging over the free-throw line as if Jimmie Johnson had been doing victory doughnuts at the top of the key, began to dissipate.

"Whoa."

Then I noticed the little hairs on the back of her neck were standing up.

If memory serves, the Rebels were playing Colorado State that night, which is sort of like making a pilgrimage to Wrigley when the Pirates are in town.

I am convinced that if BYU were the opponent, my sister wouldn't have made it to halftime. She probably still would have enjoyed the Buddy Holly look-a-like singing "Peggy Sue" at the IP, however.

Part of what makes the Thomas & Mack Center special is that people have been going to basketball games there for 25 years (at least when the Rebels were winning, or when Rollie Massimino wasn't coach).

But, as noted, that's not the only thing that sets it apart from a Memorial Gym near you.

It is the acrid aroma of indoor fireworks that makes the Thomas & Mack Center special.

It is the guys with the tasseled loafers and the fat wallets who show off their trophy wives and girlfriends on Gucci Row -- at least until they leave with six minutes to go and the Rebels up by nine.

It is the sound of 18,000 fans chanting "REB-ELS ... REB-ELS ... REB-ELS," as Rick Pitino or Lute Olson or Rick Majerus asks for a timeout to regroup.

It is Dick Cavert, the long-time public address announcer, barking "3-point goal, Anderson Hunt," or "3-point goal, Trevor Diggs," or "3-point goal, Kevin Kruger" -- as only he can.

Even the timeouts at the Thomas & Mack Center are special. Because that's when the Rebel Girls run onto the court with their midriffs showing and gyrate like spinning tops or the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

You really wanna know what makes the Thomas & Mack Center special? It is one of those rare places where traditions, such as those mentioned above, develop on their own instead of being concocted by somebody with a marketing degree and a plastic plant in his cubicle.

No, there aren't any peach baskets hanging on the walls, like at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan.

The walls don't sweat, like they do at The Palestra in downtown Philly when the Big 5 schools hoop it up.

And we've never had a General blow a gasket and hurl a chair across the floor like at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind.

(Although we did have a guy, a pretty good defensive coach in his own right, chomp on a towel when the games got close.)

Wilt Chamberlain played at Allen Fieldhouse. Michael Jordan played at the Thomas & Mack Center. So did Kareem. And Kobe and LeBron.

So did John McEnroe and Meadowlark Lemon and Pavarotti and Barney the Dinosaur and David Bowie.

And Hulk Hogan and the Boston Pops and Eddie Murphy and Alice Cooper and Crosby, Stills and Nash -- and, a couple of years later, Young (as in Neil), too.

And Frank Sinatra.

(The Chairman of the Board gets a paragraph to himself. As it should be.)

Big George Foreman and Little Stevie Wonder. U2 and Colonel Sanders. And Jerry Seinfeld, not that there was anything wrong with that.

Garth Brooks and Jimmy Buffet. Celine Dion and Oscar De La Hoya. And Ozzy Osbourne, who was Paranoid if not delusional.

President and Hillary Clinton (but not Monica Lewinsky). Elton John and Tina Turner, together. And B-R-U-U-C-E!

Oh yeah, and a bunch of bodacious guys who pulled tractors through mud bogs with a pinch of smokeless tobacco 'tween their cheek and gum. But not as Bodacious as the bull, and all those brave cowboys who tried to climb on his back.

Remember the Russian Penguins? Not the cuddly kind with flippers. The kind with hockey sticks and bad attitudes. I got your Glasnost right here, buddy.

And, last but not least ... (but not that far from it, when you think about it) the Village People.

On the very spot on the playing floor where Wink Adams just bowled over three guys from Utah on the way to the basket, Presidents have campaigned, music superstars have belted out their hits and boxers have belted each other in sweet science experiments. And six guys dressed as a cop, an American Indian chief, a construction worker, a cowboy, a military man and a biker with a giant mustache lip-synced disco tunes about four-lettered gymnasiums downtown.

I'm not sure if that's what makes the Thomas & Mack Center special.

But it's why I hope it lasts for at least another 25 years.

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