The American Airlines Center's Web site boasts that, with a 3-1 ratio of women's toilets to men's, it has "more toilets per capita than any other sports and entertainment venue in the country." Jetsons-like flat televisions hang in each of the 142 luxury suites. The acoustics are so good that, after Luciano Pavarotti performed there last month, opera aficionados raved.
Yet some in the Dallas media question the center's suitability for basketball.
"The new arena reminds you of the finest art museums, but there is a lack of old-school fervor," says Randy Galloway, the famed Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist. "The fans and the arena just don't seem to fit."
Galloway has been hanging around Texas gridirons, ball diamonds and basketball courts since 1966. "I'm a fan of the old barns," he says. "There were rats in the basement of old Reunion Arena the size of Shetland ponies, but after two or three months in the new arena, we were all saying, 'Let's go back to Reunion.' And I mean everybody was saying it! The new place was dead. It had no character, no heart, no soul, no nothing."
Dave Crome, a Kansas City sports anchor at KSHB Channel 41 during the mid to late '90s, now works at Dallas' KDAF Channel 33. He's covered his share of Big 12 events from both KC and south of the Red River. Crome thinks the Big 12 is making a mistake. "The American Airlines Center is awesome as a structure and for us in the media to be able to file reports from," Crome says. "But it lacks a lot of the spirit that old Reunion had. It's too big, and there's too much space to fill. When the crowd is cheering, it doesn't sound loud in there unless they're screaming. They even have to pipe in crowd-cheering noise at the Mavericks games just to make it sound louder -- and the Mavs are drawing good-sized crowds!
"That tournament should really stay in KC," Crome continues. "That's where the tournament belongs -- not just from a historic standpoint but because if it's not broke, why try to fix it?"
Chuck Cooperstein, who hosts a popular sports talk show in Dallas, thinks Dallas screwed up by trying to blend a sports arena with a concert hall. "This is a very nice building, but it has a lot of sound absorption for concerts," Cooperstein says. "That's just the opposite of what you want for a noisy sporting event." Cooperstein likes his basketball loud and in a traditional setting. "As far as the true arena experience, there's nothing like Kemper and old Reunion," Cooperstein says. Some fans see birds flying overhead inside Kemper as a distraction; others see them as entertainment during those long TV timeouts.
Of course, the center has its fans. Scott Murray has worked in Dallas for 22 years as the sports director at KXAS Channel 5. He thinks the new arena is fabulous. "You can sum it up by saying it's an all-encompassing experience," Murray says. "There's not a bad sight line in the arena. It feels very homey when you first walk in. It's like a city within a city. It's very well laid out." Bob Schmelzle, the executive sports producer at Channel 5, calls the center a first-class facility. "The attention to detail is so pronounced you feel like you're boarding the Titanic," Schmelzle says. For Kansas Citians, perhaps that metaphor offers hope.
Even Galloway can't help boasting about Dallas' advantages over the city of fountains. "The positive news is that next March, everybody is moving uptown -- way uptown," chuckles Galloway. "Downtown Dallas is horseshit, but compared to [Kansas City], the fans will think they're in New Orleans!"