Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Thanks For The Memories Reunion

As all national stadium talk is either about Yankee Stadium closing or the new Cowboys stadium opening in 2009 (which is yet to have a name still...Jerry Jones Field? Corporate Chapel? The House that Jerry Built?), nobody seems to care about the official closing of Reunion Arena. While the arena was no spectacle of sight, there were many Dallas memories that occurred at Reunion, and we here at DallasDedicated will miss them all...

My first memory at Reunion Arena was going to a Dallas Mavericks game. I can remember vividly sitting at the very top as the Mavs were demolished (something that happened a lot those days) by the Miami Heat. By the middle of the 4th quarter, as the rest of the crowd had shuffled out of the building, I was nearly courtside as I cheered on Jim Jackson, Jamal Mashburn, and Jason Kidd. I think the Mavs lost by about 40 that night, but ever since then I was hooked. There are many different memories people have of Reunion Arena.

At the only NBA all star game to ever be played in Dallas, the unlikliest of dunkers was crowned king. In the 1986 all star game at Reunion Arena, Spud Webb not only unseated defending champion and favored teammate Dominique Wilkins, Webb did it in style. For someone of Webb’s stature (5-6) to even be able to complete a slam dunk is amazing enough, but Webb reversed, spun and double-clutched his way to the title.

That same year, Reunion played host to the men's Final Four, where Louisville beat Duke in a nail-biting 72-69 victory. Freshman Pervis "Never Nervous" Ellison was named the Most Outstanding Player over All-American Danny Ferry.

When Reunion Arena opened on April 28, 1980, for the first night of the weeklong WCT Finals tennis event, the city instantly became a major market for U.S. professional sports. The arena was enough to convince the NBA to open a franchise here, the Dallas Mavs. Ironically though, interest and fanhood didn't start to fully develop at Reunion Arena until after the game that came across town, at Moody Coliseum. The WCT Finals forced the Mavericks to move the deciding game of their first playoff series – against Seattle, on April 26, 1984 – to SMU. Dallas advanced with a dramatic 105-104 victory as a sellout crowd of 9,007 cheered in approval. The game is now known as "Moody Madness", and a legend of fan support that would follow the Mavericks to Reunion Arena was born.

Starting the next season, the Mavs would play to at least 98 percent of the 17,007 seat capacity for the next seven years. What makes this even more impressive is the fact that they only achieved a postseason berth in a couple of those years. The crowd got loud. Headache loud. Can't hear your coach loud. Technicians measured the noise at 112 decibels in the mid-1980s.

One of the noisiest, most captivating games in NBA playoff history was played on the Reunion floor on June 2, 1988. As 17,007 towel-waving fans chanted, "Beat LA! Beat LA!" and a national-television audience looked on, the Mavericks beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 105-103, to force a Game 7 of the Western Conference finals. "That was the most effective crowd I've seen in my 25 years in the NBA," legendary Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn said after Game 6. Dallas lost two nights later in LA, but Reunion Arena was forever carved into the nation's mind.

As the Mavs attendance dramatically declined in the mid-90s, the arrival of the NHL's Stars from Minnesota in 1993 became the big story. The Stars drew an average of 16,119 fans in their first season and averaged no fewer than 15,572 fans at Reunion Arena since. Crowds were intense and the arena's hockey atmosphere made a strong home-ice advantage, just like the Mavs had during their playoff runs. "Reunion Arena is the way hockey arenas used to be – tight crowds, everybody right on top of you, strong atmosphere," Stars wing Brett Hull said. "It's a great hockey building. I'll miss the tightness and camaraderie."

With Brett Hull, center Mike Modano and goaltender Ed Belfour leading Dallas' first major hockey team, the Stars reached the Stanley Cup Finals against the Buffalo Sabres in 1999. Game 6 was won in a triple-overtime thriller in Buffalo. The real celebration happened two days later as the city held a parade that ended inside Reunion Arena. It was the first (and still only) non-Cowboys championship by a Dallas major sports team.

American Airlines Center opened, and both the Mavs and Stars moved on to the bigger and better arena. Now Reunion Arena is just an empty bulding that city leaders still aren't quite sure what to do with. For having sports teams play there just two decades, Reunion Arena had it's fair share of fond memories.


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