By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
If you claim to have witnessed the wildest game in Dallas Mavericks' history, chances are you're lying.
Only 9,007 fans squeezed into the team's makeshift home at SMU's Moody Coliseum on April 26, 1984. The fifth and deciding game in Dallas' first-round playoff series with the Seattle Supersonics was telecast exclusively via pay-per-view on the old Home Sports Entertainment cable channel. And, truth be told, the Mavs were irrelevant, still in their infancy and merely a twinkle in the eye of metroplex consumers obsessing on everything Dallas and most things Cowboys.
But, somehow, everyone has an eyewitness account of the night the Mavericks used a bizarre, frantic finish to beat the Sonics, win their first NBA Playoff series and trumpet their arrival as a legitimate franchise.
"It was one big zoo," recalls Allen Stone, HSE's play-by-play voice that night alongside Scott Lloyd. "Everything that could go wrong went wrong. Yet the Mavericks pulled off a miracle, and everyone went home happy. Still, I watch the tape and I have to pinch myself."
Moody Madness was born from, of all things, tennis.
This spring—with a ninth consecutive playoff berth—the Mavs in the post-season are more passé than promising. We take Dirk Nowitzki's fadeaway jumper and Mark Cuban's passion for granted. Dallas will win a game or two—shoot, maybe even a series or two—before ultimately completing its 29th season of NBA basketball without a parade.
But back then—25 years ago—we didn't know any better. Professional basketball was the shiny new gadget in the big, bright toy box called Reunion Arena. Mavs Fans for Life hadn't reached puberty, much less grown jaded and cynical while lamenting lost opportunities at a title.
It was new. Naïve. Nuts.
"We were an up-and-coming team, but nobody expected us to get into the playoffs," former guard Rolando Blackman says. "It was a wild ride. No one knew how to act. It was all new to us and our fans."
Reunion Arena broke ground before Dallas landed the Mavericks and therefore had as its primary initial tenant World Championship Tennis. In the '80s the WCT Finals was a major event in Dallas and one whose booking dates took preference. When the WCT blocked out late April 1984, no big deal. Who else would need the building, an expansion Mavericks team in only its fourth year?
"It'd be a better story if Reunion Arena or the City of Dallas didn't expect the Mavs to go far in the playoffs and just started booking events, but that wasn't the case," says former Mavs media relations director Kevin Sullivan, who went on to serve on George W. Bush's staff in the White House. "Tennis got first dibs back then. But it wasn't like there was no contingency plan for the Mavs in the playoffs. Granted, it was a pretty wild plan."
Led by head coach Dick Motta and rising stars Mark Aguirre and Blackman, the Mavs recorded their first winning season (43-39) and earned the first post-season berth. Little did anyone know it was merely foreplay.
The heavy underdog Mavericks—they entered the series with 146 minutes of playoff experience to Seattle's 2,280—owned the home-court advantage against the savvy Sonics and established veterans Jack Sikma, Gus Williams and Tom Chambers. Looking at the series schedule, Blackman noticed beside the site of Game 5—"TBD." To be determined.
"People didn't want to be rude," he says, "but no one expected it to be a problem because no one expected us to be competitive in that series, much less win it."
Down 2-1, the Mavs shockingly won Game 4 in The Kingdome to force a Game 5 and...
"Major bedlam," Stone says.
"Flat-out craziness," Blackman says.
"Mayhem and chaos," Sullivan says.
Looking for a suitable venue, Mavericks officials considered the Dallas Convention Center before settling on Moody Coliseum. Yes, there were quirks, but the Mavs held training camp at SMU and were somewhat familiar with the surroundings.
But the night was anything but smooth. For starters, it was a logistical nightmare.
Instead of bringing in their court, complete with Mavericks markings and NBA lanes and 3-point lines, Dallas had to use SMU's college court. Which meant equipment manager Keith Grant spent all day measuring and taping down a proper 3-point line. Then the Mavs had to somehow forge seats in a 9,007-seat arena for a fan base that typically packed Reunion with 17,007.
Oh yeah, and hours before tip-off came the thunderstorms.
"We thought for the longest time that our audio was fried and we were going to provide pictures without words," Stone says. "It just went along with the whole night, which was just so surreal."
The raucous and concentrated crowd, standing most of the game, remained deafening despite Seattle's 93-86 lead with 2:08 remaining. But after Sikma fouled out and Pat Cummings hit two free throws to slice the margin to four with 47 seconds remaining, Blackman stole a pass for a dunk and a 95-93 game. He then forced overtime with a 15-foot jumper.
"I watch that game over and over," Blackman says, "and it's probably the highest I ever jumped in my career."
In the extra period Dallas' six-point lead shrank to 105-104 with one second remaining. That is where Moody unveiled its Madness, in the form of a 14-minute second.
After a Mavs timeout, Motta instructed Jay Vincent to simply throw the ball off Chambers, reasoning the one second would run off the clock. Chambers actually caught the ball, turned and fired a half-court shot that missed, and referee Mike Mathis whistled the game over. The jubilant Mavs left the court.
It would be a premature evacuation.
For over the next 14 minutes, Mathis and co-officials Jake O'Donnell and Tommy Nunez discussed and dissected the conclusion. Ruling that the clock never started, Mathis eventually ordered the final second re-played, with the ball awarded to Seattle. With players forced to put their uniforms back on, Dallas grudgingly returned to the court, where Aguirre foiled a lob-pass attempt to Chambers at the buzzer, setting off a second wild celebration.
"I've never been a part of an atmosphere as frenzied as that one," Sullivan says.
Less than 48 hours later, the emotionally bankrupt and physically drained Mavs lost Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals to the Los Angeles Lakers by 43 points en route to a 4-1 series loss. But the weird one-night stand had been a success. The Mavs' playoff cherry had been popped.
"It's the one game that still comes up," says Stone, the voice of SMU basketball the last 15 years. "For a whole lot of strange, weird reasons, Moody Madness resonates."
Classic moments that ooze character and sprout organically are rare in our city of pre-fabbed boobs, leased BMWs and over-everythinged Victory Park. Fitting that to most SMU students Moody Madness is the latest emo band. Sad that only a handful of artifacts from the game survived the Mavs' relocation from Reunion to American Airlines Center.
"I hope it lives forever," Blackman says, "because it galvanized a city."
And transformed 9,000 in the building that night into about 900,000 who wished they were.