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  • Dave Cottenie

Thomas & Mack Center – UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86

Thomas & Mack Center 4505 S. Maryland Parkway Paradise, NV 89154

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels men’s basketball website

Thomas and Mack Center website

Year Opened: 1983

Capacity: 17,923


Hey Reb! UNLV Still Has It

At one point in time, not that long ago, the only team sport in Las Vegas was University of Nevada, Las Vegas basketball. By far the biggest consistent sporting event in town, UNLV had caught the imagination and affection of the locals in a way that nothing else had. The world got to see how big the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels program was with their huge success in the early nineties under legendary head coach Jerry Tarkanian. The culmination was a National Championship in 1990 with the likes of Greg Anthony, Stacey Augmon and Larry Johnson.

Home for the Runnin’ Rebels is Jerry Tarkanian Court at the Thomas & Mack Center. At a huge capacity of over 17,000, the Thomas & Mack was once the major sporting arena in Las Vegas. Opening in 1983 on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus, the Thomas & Mack was essentially made a reality through bankers Parry Thomas and Jerry Mack. Thomas & Mack were quintessential in building the university and growing it to the point where it is today. Specifically, they donated 400 acres to the university and funded the construction of the arena that immortalizes them. The court at the Thomas & Mack has been renamed after their legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian. Although it has been a while since the Runnin’ Rebels made the Final Four, but taking in a UNLV basketball game will show fans that they are still relevant.

Food & Beverage 4

Thomas & Mack concessions provide a decent variety of sports fare. There are a number of different concession options that can be found throughout the single concourse. The South of the Border concession offers tacos, burritos and taco salads. The Back Court Grill offers a number of traditional items, including chicken fingers, burgers, fries, chili cheese fries, brats and italian sausage. The DQ offers traditional Dairy Queen items and the Pizza & Brew offers exactly what it sounds like. Maybe the best spot to hit would be the Mack Attack. It’s a unique spot that offers soup, chili cheese fritos and the Mack Attack, a ½ pound hot dog.

Beverage options are about what you would expect for a major arena. Coca-cola products are found throughout the arena. Unlike many college venues, alcohol is available at the Thomas & Mack. Some of the varieties of beer include Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Light, Founders IPA and Blue Moon.

Atmosphere 4

At one point the Thomas & Mack Center was the main arena in Las Vegas. That seems to be changing with the rise of the T-Mobile Arena, home of the Vegas Golden Knights of the NHL. The Thomas & Mack brings a combination of a distinctly college venue with a big event feel to it. The clean, light, neon look of the exterior of the Thomas & Mack Center is appealing and clean looking. When heading to the main gate at the southwest of the arena, fans need to take a quick detour to the right to get a picture with the bronze statue of legendary UNLV head coach, the late Jerry Tarkanian.

After ascending the stairs to the main entrance and passing through security, fans are greeted with the main concourse. Thomas & Mack has a single concourse with stairs that head up to the second level or down to the first, similar to the old Palace of Auburn Hills. There are numerous displays on the interior wall of the concourse. Some of these include displays for major shows over the years, including the Circus. Some displays of note include the large displays of bankers Parry Thomas and Jerry Mack and their story of how they made the arena a reality. Other key displays include a display for Coach Tarkanian and the 1977 Final Four team, also known as the “Hardaway Eight.” Upon exploration, fans will find the adjoining Cox Pavilion, which features a number of murals of players who participated in the NBA Summer League over the years.

Inside the seating bowl, fans are welcomed to the large, two-level seating area. Surrounded by red, leather seats, the court is oriented in a north-south direction and features a silhouette of the Las Vegas skyline. It is best to view Jerry Tarkanian Court from the east side as the logo and silhouette on the court will be perfect for photo ops. Above the court is the video board, which is probably a little behind the times, but still adequate. The ribbon boards around the arena are also well used. On the west side of the arena fans will find the banners honoring the retired numbers of former Runnin’ Rebels including Greg Anthony, Ricky Somers, Armon Gilliam, Stacey Augmon, Glen Gondrezick, Reggie Theus, Sidney Green, Eddie Owens and Larry Johnson. Also above the west stands are the championship banners including their trips to the Final Four in 1977, 1987, 1991 and their National Championship in 1990.

The game day experience at the Thomas & Mack Center is about what you would expect from a major college basketball program. The band plays in the south end and is very good. Right beside the band is The Rebellion or UNLV student section. The PA announcer does his best to keep the crowd lively and part of the game. The UNLV cheerleaders split themselves into two groups and situate themselves at both the north and south ends of the court. The UNLV mascot, Hey Reb, patrols courtside and keeps fans entertained and interested. At the beginning of the game, the cheerleaders literally “roll out the red carpet” for the team as the enter the court. The pregame presentation is what steps up the experience as a bigger event. A masterful use of lights, music and even pyro get the fans ramped up and pumped for the opening tip.

Neighborhood 4

The Thomas & Mack Center is located in Paradise, on the edge of the UNLV campus. This may not sound overly exciting, but the Las Vegas Strip is also in Paradise. A short cab ride from the Thomas & Mack will put fans right on the strip, where there are nearly unlimited entertainment options. From bars and restaurants to shows and casinos, there is something for everyone here. Unfortunately, the immediate area is not overly plentiful with options. For fans who require something within walking distance, then heading east to Maryland Parkway is the way to go. Fast food and chain options are found here including In-n-Out Burger and Smashburger. The Aloha Kitchen and Cafe Rio are options that are close and a bit more unique.

Las Vegas offers nearly unlimited entertainment options. There are far too many to maneuver through in this review. The Las Vegas Strip offers all of the famous Vegas hotels and casinos, and most offer other attractions as well. North of Paradise, fans can find Las Vegas proper, or Old Vegas. For fans looking for something very close to UNLV, try the Pinball Museum. If push comes to shove and one experience must be shared, head to the MGM Grand and take in the CSI Experience, straight from the hit television show based in Vegas.

Vegas does offer sporting options, that may not be immediately thought of. Las Vegas is the center for big boxing matches and UFC. Racing can also be found in Vegas at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Pacific Coast League baseball can be found with the Las Vegas 51s who are waiting for a new ballpark, but currently playing at Cashman Field. UNLV also plays a host of other sports including Rodeo and football at Sam Boyd Stadium. The Oakland Raiders are on their way, but the NHL is the first major sport to call Las Vegas home and the Vegas Golden Knights play their home games just off the strip at T-Mobile Arena.

As far as accommodations go, there are, of course, a ton of large casino options on the strip. Some options that are a little closer to the Thomas & Mack also service McCarran Airport. The Best Western and Hyatt are both options that are close.

Fans 4

Fan support for Runnin’ Rebels basketball is solid. Over the past three seasons the Rebels have averaged between 10,000 and 11,000 fans per game. This is good for a mid-thirties ranking in the entire NCAA and a solid third in the Mountain West Conference. The large venue capacity and relatively mediocre results on the court have hurt the program. The game that was reviewed was over the Christmas Break when the campus is essentially empty. It was also the opening game of conference play. The Rebellion, the UNLV student section, was well represented considering the challenges of the specific game. The community support for the Rebels is strong and it is clear that this is Vegas’ team. The fans in attendance are loud and proud and did a great job of making fans forget about any empty seats.

Access 4

The Thomas & Mack Center is located on the edge of the UNLV campus between Paradise Road, South Maryland Parkway and East Tropicana Ave. It is also east of the Las Vegas Strip and North of McCarran. Years of hosting major Las Vegas events has given the Thomas & Mack plenty of experience in getting fans in and out of the building and getting to and from the game by car is far easier than attempting to maneuver The Strip. The arena is surrounded by parking lots and finding a spot is not difficult.

For fans looking to use public transit to get to the arena, there are buses that travel along Paradise Road, E Tropicana and S Maryland. Fans should check out the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada website for fares, maps and schedules. Las Vegas is also a very taxi friendly city and catching a cab to or from the game is not too difficult.

The main entry gate for the Thomas & Mack is at the southwest of the arena at the top of the staircase. The main ticketing windows are on the main level before entering the arena near the Jerry Tarkanian statue.

Getting around the arena is not difficult at all and fans have plenty of space. The washroom facilities are also more than adequate for the arena.

Security is ever changing at major events and becoming something that fans need to research before attending a game. Fans are encouraged to check out the UNLV Rebels athletics website along with the Thomas & Mack Center website to ensure they have up to date security information and entry requirements.

Return on Investment 4

UNLV basketball offers great return on investment for sports fans. UNLV games are decided into premium, conference and non-conference categories. Tickets will run from $22 to $154 for premium or conference games and $13 to $137 for non-conference games. Concession prices are on the more inexpensive side and parking or transportation can be found for a reasonable rate. The return is a top-tier basketball conference in a top tourist city and a solid sports arena. The opportunity for a full family to hit a Runnin’ Rebels game for a reasonable price is definitely a possibility.

Extras 3

An extra mark for keeping the memory of Tarkanian alive. During pregame fans slap their hands together in a biting fashion and a silhouette of a shark is shone on the court in memory of Tark.

An extra mark for the staying power of the Rebels. Playing in a bit of a smaller conference in a massively competitive entertainment market, UNLV remains relevant in the NCAA.

An extra mark for the significance of basketball at UNLV. The Runnin’ Rebels are so significant athletically that they have a name all to themselves. The rest of the athletic teams are simply the Rebels.

Final Thoughts

Although the most glorious of glory days for the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels are behind them, the Rebels are still very relevant not only in the NCAA, but also in the crowded entertainment market of Las Vegas. Although the saying goes that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, fans who attend a UNLV basketball game will have a difficult time keeping their experience to themselves.

Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9 and on Instagram.

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