I'm a huge fan of the Dallas Mavericks. If you know me, you know this. I've been following their games ever since Dick Motta was coach. I have my #41 jersey and a pile of Mavs t-shirts. On my birthday, almost ten years ago, I sat on the couch with a Mavs Dancer during The Mark Cuban Show. I have the VHS tape somewhere. I follow The Two Man Game and read everything written by Earl K. Sneed. I'm a Free Darko basketball fan, and I dream of the day that Jacob Weinstein would illustrate and sell a Mavs print. April and I are season ticket holders. (The 10 game package. I'm not made of money.) We were there, every round, throughout the Mavs' incredible run to win the 2011 NBA Championship. This year, we even upgraded our seats to Section 329 Row C Seats 7-8. Not that we've been able to enjoy them yet. With the NBA lockout now in its one millionth day, a restlessness has settled on me. No matter how many times I flip through my collection of media guides, watch the championship DVD or every Nowitzki clip ever loaded onto YouTube, it's not the same as actually getting to enjoy a 2011-2012 season.
For awhile, I thought about starting my own Mavs blog. However, if you can tolerate the occasional basketball rant from me, I'll keep everything here. A few months ago, I wrote down some thoughts about old Mavs versus new Mavs, Reunion Arena versus American Airlines Center. It's not a polished essay, but here it is:
My dad was a season ticket holder throughout the 80s and 90s. He would occasionally take me to the games. For some reason, I attended a disproportionate amount of games against the Nuggets and Jazz—which probably explains the deep-seeded scorn and contempt (respectively) that I bear these two franchises. It’s hardwired into my childhood.
Reunion Arena was a bold concrete testimony to utilitarian structures. It served to contain people for the purpose of events. Nothing more. It had the aesthetic of a parking garage. The stark, boring usefulness of Reunion Arena endeared it to Dallas basketball fans. Even the location of Reunion Arena said: “Please come for the game, then go home.” There was nothing around it. No restaurants. No bars. In order to get to the game, my dad would park behind this one abandoned building and then we’d cross a series of railroad tracks to get there. As a kid, crossing the tracks was the best part. Occasionally, a train would pass and it would momentarily halt our journey. It always gave basketball this sense of being... well... on the other side of the tracks. It felt off-limits and cool. I had to sneak over from my suburban nest to this other world, a world of concrete and hardwood and noise. All so I could watch Rolando Blackman take the most perfect jump shots, night after night.
When Mark Cuban bought the Mavericks, he soon moved the team to the American Airlines Center, a beautiful palace in contrast to the cinder block known as Reunion Arena. I have no longing to go back to Reunion Arena. I can’t muster the nostalgia. Sorry. When the Mavericks suffered a decade as dreadful as the 90s, it spoiled the arena. Loss and defeat stained the walls and choked the air. Reunion Arena felt less like a basketball stadium and more like a fall-out shelter. Nothing says “duck and cover” like the 1992-1993 season, 11 wins and 71 losses.
Walking into the American Airlines Center for the first time, I was in awe. “You built this all for me?” Yes, I really did have that reaction.
Let the healing begin.
When American Airlines Center was first built, there was nothing around it. Reunion Arena occupied a desolate region on the south end. The AAC occupied the desolate region on the north end. After a few years, Victory Park grew around it. Restaurants, bars, clubs, condos, the euphoric media-saturated bright lights of the AT&T Plaza – thank you Hillwood Development Company, LLC. Even the name: Victory Park. Can you sense the urgency? We are winners. Please, oh please, let not this name become ironic.
The walk from where I park my car (a nice lot under the bridge near Hooters) to the arena isn’t as perilous as when I used to go to the games with my dad. However, the feeling of “crossing the tracks” is still with me. That walk is part of the ritual.