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Official Review by Mick Akers, Stadium Journey Guest Correspondent
The Thomas and Mack Center is located just a few miles from the glitz and the glamour of the world famous Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada. Inside the T&M the Runnin' Rebels of UNLV offer as good of a show as anything that the Strip's hotels and casinos have to offer. Once home to Jerry Tarkanian and his highly successful UNLV teams "" including the 1990 team that won UNLV's one and only national title "" the UNLV program has seen a spike in excitement the past seven years under former coach Lon Kruger who led the Rebels to four NCAA tournament appearances in the past five years "" including a memorable Sweet Sixteen run back in 2007.
Named after two high-profile Nevada bankers who were responsible for the funding of the arena "" E. Perry Thomas and Jerome Mack "" the 18,776 seat arena (for basketball games) opened in 1983 and saw an extensive re-modeling in 1999 to modernize the arena. A smaller upgrade in 2008 upgraded the arena's visuals, including a new four-sided LED scoreboard, LED advertising panels on the scorer's table and the majority of the balcony being fitted with LED strips for advertising and information purposes.
In addition to being home the of the Rebels basketball program, the Thomas and Mack has seen its share of big events in the venue's 28-year history. The T&M once was the alternate home to the Utah Jazz back in the mid 1980's and was the site of NBA legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar breaking Wilt Chamberlin's all time leading scoring mark back when the Los Angeles Lakers were hosted by the Jazz in 1985. The FIFA America's Championships were held at the Thomas and Mack in 2007 which put the USA Basketball team up against the best of the rest of the world, and gave the winner of the tournament an automatic berth in the 2008 Olympic Games. The arena has been the home of the biggest rodeo of them all""the National Finals Rodeo"" since 1985, as well as the home of the men's and women's Mountain West Basketball Tournament for nine out of the last 12 years. In addition, other events at T&M include top boxing matches, speeches by Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev, and many top-bill concerts.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The T&M offers a wide variety of food and beverage options. Some food offered includes philly cheese steaks, chicken fingers, hamburgers, hot dogs, soft pretzels, nachos and ice cream to name a few of the favorites which all go for under ten bucks. Being that it is Las Vegas, there is no shortage of options when it comes to the beverages offered at the Thomas and Mack. For the kiddies there are Pepsi Brand products and lemonade. The adults have a wider variety of alcoholic drinks you can enjoy. From the Budweiser, Bud Light and Coors Light found at most food stands to the Jack Daniels bar where you can get your favorite Jack and mixer combo, to the center bar where you have a variety of craft beers and mixed drinks and a summer time favorite the frozen margarita.
Tailgating before the game is not too prevalent. You'll find the die-hard fans out there getting their pre-game celebrations on. Look for the giant Rebel flag to find one of the better ones run by local Rebel apparel company Rebel Swag. There are no designated spaces for pre-gaming but the areas where most tail-gate are the same for just about every game.
As you sit under the vast tournament banners, the 1990 NCAA National Championship banner and the multiple retired jersey's of UNLV greats such as Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony, Armon Gilliam, Reggie Theus and others, you get the feel of what a proud tradition it is to be a Rebels fan.
The UNLV cheer squad and the crowd favorite Rebel Girls dance team get the crowd hyped up during all portions of the game. The Rebel mascot, "Hey Reb," will do his thing on the court and in the stands making sure everyone is having a good time and is showing the Rebels their support.
As the Runnin' Rebels come out of the locker room the red carpet is rolled out as they enter the arena. As the members of the team are introduced""usually after a short video from one of the many local celebrities""the pyrotechnics ensue and leaves a cloud of smoke hovering the stadium for the first few minutes of the game.
The Thomas and Mack Center is on the southwest edge of the UNLV campus. The area surrounding it is mostly campus. The area to the northwest of the T&M is not too pretty. There is a low-income apartment area near the parking lot, but if you travel a little west you will find some good places to eat and entertain. The Hard Rock Cafe and Hard Rock Casino are both a short walk away from the arena. Also nearby is a Johnny Rocket's restaurant and the HofbrÃ¤uhaus House""famous for their Oktoberfest celebrations, German beer and German food. If you travel though the campus and out to Maryland Parkway you will find a few local bars and some more food options. Local favorite Smash Burger, In-N-Out burger and Capriotti's""home of the best cheese steak in Vegas and the famous Bobby sandwich""are all a within walking distance of the T&M. A popular place to drink before games"? The Freakin' Frog, is right across the street from Smash Burger and offers a nice assortment of beers to get your pre-game festivities started.
UNLV, which suffered a lull in fan support back in 1992 when former coach Jerry Tarkanian was forced out of town, has now seen a resurgence of its loyal fan base. Led by former coach Lon Kruger, the fans are some of the best you'll find anywhere in the country. The student section""formerly known as Kruger's Korner and will need a new name now that former UNLV player, Dave Rice has taken over the program""is always full and loud. The students usually get the chants started that are soon heard throughout the T&M. The Thomas and Mack has been in the top five for attendance in the Mountain West, and will get as loud as any arena in the NCAA. The Rebel Yell sweeps through the crowd when the Rebels are off and running. The chant of "Rrreeebbbeeelllsss"rumbles through the crowd and can be intimidating to the opposing team.
Most fans are courteous, but the die-hard fans will let any opposing teams fan base who is getting out of hand known whose house this is. I have seen many verbal assaults and some physical assaults happen in the crowd, nothing too serious and nothing the campus police don't handle within a minute or two. Rebel fans for this reason have the reputation for being rude, but that is just a small portion of the total fan base, the majority of fans are respectful yet as passionate as those fans that give the Rebel fans base a bad rap.
The Thomas and Mack is accessible from the 215 beltway by way of the airport tunnel, off of Tropicana Avenue off both the 95 and I-15 highways. The two entrances into the main parking lot are located on the north side of Tropicana Avenue and the east side of Swenson Road once you pass through the airport tunnel. If the game is near a sell-out you'll have to use the overflow parking lot that sits across Swenson to the west. Getting in to the parking lot is usually pretty smooth, but can cause back-ups on the roads. Parking is free in both lots and is first come, first serve. Getting out of the parking lots on a busy game day can take up to 25 minutes or so if you don't beat the rush of people out of the arena. If the Rebels have a comfortable lead, help yourself by leaving the game at lest 3-5 minutes early if not earlier in big blowouts.
The tickets prices usually start at around $13, but several games start at $5-$7 for the balcony area behind the baskets. The lower bowl tickets usually run you $35, but they are all great seats. In addition to those, the Thomas and Mack began the "Best Seat in the House" program this past season allowing fans to get court-side seats that are available at around $100 a seat, though quantities are very limited. Those who have families can also get great deals. Family four-packs are offered which include four balcony tickets, four hot dogs and four sodas all for about $50-$60. The prices are great considering this is the best show in Las Vegas. There are many nights that promotional items are given away before games and goods are handed out throughout the concourse which always makes it a little better to walk-out with a freebie.
Extra points for being located in the entertainment capital of the world, and for the ability to sit beneath a NCAA Championship banner. Free parking and affordable tickets also garner an extra point.
The UNLV Basketball program is the closest thing Las Vegas has to a professional team. The city really rallies around them and Rebel fever spreads every Fall as the new season is slated to begin. In a city full of big name performers and famous landmarks, UNLV Basketball truly is the best show in town, making the Thomas and Mack the place to be anytime the Rebels are off and runnin' inside.
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4725 S Maryland Pkwy
Las Vegas, NV 89119
4700 S Maryland Pkwy
Las Vegas, NV 89119
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