Let us not weep at the death of Reunion Arena, but rather rejoice in its life. For it was a splendid stadium, elegantly framing unforgettable moments for a generation of sports fans and bolstering a city's image with its...
Oh, who are we kidding?
As an awkwardly flat and rectangular sports structure that grew obsolete before you could buy a beer, Reunion perishes as a Dallas disappointment. In scratching out an appropriate eulogy for the joint on 777 Sports St., I struggled to produce a list of feel-good memories and resorted to consulting the microfiche for a handful of home-grown defining moments.
And I started going to Reunion Arena on April 28, 1980.
When John McEnroe served his first ace that night as part of the World Championship Tennis Finals, mayor Robert Folsom's $27 million venture seemed like a bargain. At a time when you could smoke anywhere you damn well pleased in Dallas, Reunion was all glassy and classy, destined to attract major sports, house multiple championships and create indelible images.
But something happened on the way to Reunion becoming Madison Square Garden South.
Overshadowed by Reunion Tower and beset by bad timing and mediocre occupants, the arena petered out before its 21st birthday, giving way to American Airlines Center. Now 28 and reduced to hosting Big 12 Conference women's basketball tournaments, X Games exhibitions and Barack Obama rallies, the un-venerable venue waits on Death Row, condemned to a legacy of never hosting a major championship-clinching victory for any of its home teams.
Reunion went out with a whimper last weekend, its swan song a Spanish-language Christian rally. The doors officially close Monday and—in light of losing $6 million the last five years—a likely demolition awaits. Since it apparently can't be transformed into a casino, church or the mother of all topless bars, Reunion's lone asset is its copper wiring.
It'll be sad to see the place adorned with yellow tape and addressed by a wrecking ball, but it needs to be exfoliated from our skyline. Just across town from a bigger, better, brighter building, it's an outdated stadium void of main tenant or obvious function.
Hard to get jazzed about Charlene Tilton beeping your pager when Jessica Simpson wants to webcam.
It's called progress. Deal with it. When the Cotton Bowl flourished, Dal-Hi Stadium (later re-named P.C. Cobb Stadium) became the Infomart. When Texas Stadium was built, the Cotton Bowl shrank in significance. And now that Jonestown could fit both it and Reunion Arena in its shirt pocket, Texas Stadium may soon face a similar funeral.
Not that Dallas' premier indoor playground for two decades didn't have its moments.
(Cue the twinkling piano and Jim Nantz's hushed, reverent tone.)
Hardened by a bottle of Tickle Pink, I saw my first concert in 1981 at Reunion: Pat Benatar.
Outfitted in parachute pants, purple Chuck Taylor high-tops and a smidge of rebellious mascara, I experienced Prince and the Revolution on New Year's Eve 1984.
Filled with both fascination and animosity, I witnessed Dennis Rodman hopping on stage with Pearl Jam in 1998 and repeatedly, defiantly drowning our boos in his booze.
Reunion voted Ronald Reagan to a second term in 1984 during the Republican National Convention, George W. Bush spoke during the 2006 midterm elections and Arkansas fan Bill Clinton watched his Razorbacks earn a bid to the Final Four in 1994.
The place was most vital, however, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It housed thousands of evacuees, who received a surprise pep talk from Mavericks' coach and New Orleans native Avery Johnson.
As a sports arena, Reunion was Winona Ryder. Cute. Spunky. Functional. Yet ultimately underwhelming.
At its peak, it boasted a sort of chaotic charm, from clean sight lines to the lack of luxury suites to Kevin McCarthy's dulcet public address, to an ad-libbed ambience impossible to replicate in soulless vacuums like, ahem, AAC.
The atmosphere was electric when the expansion Mavs beat the San Antonio Spurs in their first game in 1980, when rookie Derek Harper inexplicably dribbled out the clock in a tie playoff game against the Lakers in 1984, when freshman Pervis Ellison led Louisville to the 1986 Final Four championship inside a Reunion draped in a huge "Destination Dallas!" banner, when Brett Hull scored his 600th NHL goal just hours before Y2K, and when Arkansas fans and their RVs made their annual invasion at the SWC Basketball Tournament.
Though two championships with road clinches–the Sidekicks in Tacoma in 1987 and Stars in Buffalo in 1999–were celebrated via parades around the building, only one professional team trophy was lifted inside it: the New Jersey Devils' Stanley Cup in 2000.
As a basketball junkie, circus voyeur, music lover and writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, I went to Reunion hundreds of times. Based on criteria ranging from poignant to peculiar, these are my five most memorable moments:
5. On June 21, 1987, my black Fiero caught fire while driving to Reunion. When I finally arrived late and sat on the curb watching 10,000 fans embrace a Dallas Sidekicks' Major Indoor Soccer League championship, the day grew even more surreal.
4. It was almost midnight on June 10, 2000, when Jason Arnott's goal in the second overtime gave the New Jersey Devils a 2-1 victory over the Dallas Stars in Game 6 and the Stanley Cup championship. Never have 17,001 been so hushed.
3. I've been to Super Bowls, World Cups and Olympiads, but February 8, 1986, provided my all-time favorite sporting event. At the NBA's All-Star Saturday, Larry Bird waltzed into the locker room prior to the 3-point shooting contest and announced, "Which one of you motherfuckers is gonna finish second?" Without ever removing his warm-up jacket, he made 11 consecutive 3-pointers en route to the title. For an encore, 5-foot-7 Dallas native Spud Webb—a guy who repeatedly stole the ball from me during Duncanville-Wilmer Hutchins high school games—won the most improbable ever Slam Dunk contest.
2. Back when the Stars Club was just a white tent, Dallas' hockey team advanced to its first Stanley Cup series by beating the Colorado Avalanche, 4-1, in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. On June 4, 1999, the house rocked as unheralded Mike Keane scored twice and the sellout frenzy raucously serenaded goalie Ed Belfour with "Edd-ddie!"
1. To this day, Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Western Conference Finals remains the loudest venue I've been in. On June 2, 1988, 17,007 Reunion Rowdies waved towels and chanted "Beat LA!" as the Mavericks did indeed beat the Lakers, 105-103. CBS technicians measured the noise at 121 decibels, comparable to a jet engine.
Reunion provided us locals with some eternal goose bumps. But with its shortage of crystallized championship snapshots, in the final autopsy it's utterly forgettable west of Weatherford.
When Texas Stadium kicks it, it'll receive the fondest of farewells. The structure will lie in state in some grand rotunda, gracing fans one everlasting embrace.
Reunion Arena? After cremation, we'll shrug and sprinkle its ashes in the Trinity River. Better do it fast; I hear George Michael is playing AAC next week.
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