Ever wonder what it’s like to be in a huddle with Bobby Knight yelling in your face, halitosis in full force? Ever dreamed of accepting bribes from influential boosters? What about screaming through your school president’s property on an ATV when you’re supposed to be serving time in a halfway house? Me neither. But there was one thing I did want to know about the new College Basketball Experience facility adjacent to the Sprint Center.
To be honest, I was less interested in paying homage to college basketball players and coaches than I was in testing the claim made by a sign above the CBE entrance: "Warning. This is NOT a museum. You may sweat." I usually avoid activity involving that possibility, but I thought, No one is going to threaten me like that.
My friend (and Cornhuskers commiserator) Ben and I showed up to check out this $24 million operation at around 10:30 on a Friday morning. We gave our $10 tickets to the attendant and ended up in the Hall of Honor, the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame’s one-room tribute to all the greats, including Phog Allen, basketball pioneer James Naismith, Bill Russell and these guys: Ernest A. Blood and Jack McCracken.
In the Hall of Honor, projectors beam columns of light onto the floor of an otherwise dim room. The light beams feature different names of hall members, including Charles Barkley. Three kiosks allow visitors to scroll through pictures and brief profiles of Hall members. The selection dial on the face of the first kiosk was slow to respond when I tried to scroll to the P's, looking for former Mizzou great Anthony Peeler. (Kiosks like these are irrelevant in the Internet age anyway. Forget Peeler’s scoring average -- I bet I can find a game-worn Vancouver Grizzlies Peeler jersey, his illustrious GPA, his misdemeanor assault record and a crude dunk montage within the hour.) Wall plaques will commemorate members inducted into the Hall between the initial class of 2006 and 2028, the final year of college basketball ever. I grew disoriented by the flashing light beams and headed for the elevator, which took us to the second floor for the Fan Experience.
Outside the elevator is the Locker Room, where you can “begin your game-day transformation” by walking through a lineup of cheering-fan montages, school fight songs and raucous cheerleaders. No fan montage would be complete without college basketball’s No. 1 fan, Issac Hayes, wearing an afghan. Little does he know he’ll be murdered in a popular cable cartoon.
The Fan Experience is a basketball wonderland, but a word of warning to anyone who is prone to migraines: This level is a cacophony of beeps, buzzers, bounces, flashes and overhead voices of instruction and faux encouragement. It was crawling with preadolescent kids (and their parents, some of whom expressing glazed-over boredom, others doing their best weekend-warrior impressions of players their kids have never heard of, like Anthony Peeler).
We started with some of the nonphysical aspects of the floor: testing our vertical leap, measuring height and wingspan and getting our pictures taken in one of those goofy face cutout things. I’ll keep it simple and say my vertical leap resembles that of Rick Majerus jumping for a pork chop. A bystander snickered at my repeated and gradually less air-defying attempts to get the exact height of my jumps from the unresponsive display window. Upon each participant’s jump, the voiceover gave a less-than-convincing assurance, no matter how high the leap: “Wow! Now you’re livin’ above the rim!”
The Fan Experience contains a full-court floor and a three-on-three court lined with an urban-style façade. It’s dotted with interactive events. Some test pedestrians’ acumen for nailing three-pointers in a 40-second time span (Me: 6; Ben: 3) and shooting free throws in front of a video screen of loud, obnoxious, drunken coeds (Me: 0; Ben: 1). At the station called Throw It Down, you have to dunk in a 10-foot, 9-foot or 8-foot goal before the clock winds down from 40 seconds. (In other words, stand in place for 35 seconds, then dunk.) My favorite was Beat The Clock, in which we had five seconds to race toward a lighted spot (of five or six on the court) and hit a buzzer-beater. The premise: Our team has just called a timeout and I’m in the huddle getting the last-play pep talk from the coach.
“All right, sink it and we win!” Coach says. “It’s party time! You ready? Let’s go!” a teammate yells. “You know what to do, baby!” Though I get multiple chances at hitting that last shot, I miss each time. The ever-present overhead voice screams, “Oh, tough luck!” upon every brick. I was told by more successful participants that if you actually make a buzzer-beater, the voice of God yells “This is too much fun!”
We headed downstairs to the first level. There we found the Pep Talk, where another voiceover rained down from the ceiling. Our coach asked: “Hey, guys, what’s goin’ on out there? I’d love to divvy out minutes, but I just can’t.” This inspired Ben and I to move on to the much-ballyhoed Dish the Rock passing station, to see how many basketballs we could throw at targets on the wall (Me: 14; Ben: 9). The targets were the welcoming hands of our well-defended teammate painted onto the wall. The teammate’s complete lack of expression was a little unconvincing
This floor included two rebounding stations, along with oversized, low-to-the-ground hoops for smaller children and a booth where we could make the play-by-play calls from famous college games using a script or improvising. This was the most popular among the kids and parents, so we skipped it.
The rest of the first floor is devoted to the history and legacy of college basketball, as well as a Mentor’s Circle, where we could watch and listen to various coaches describe their own life mentors. A side booth allows visitors to video record a message about their own mentor. We eventually found ourselves back in the cavelike ambience of the Hall of Honors.
What was most fun about CBE was the possibility of watching middle-aged hamstrings die at the dunking station. The least fun was the Fan Experience's various incessant voice-overs that blend into a chorus of hokey, mock-encouraging gibberish.
Overall, the College Basketball Experience just might be a nice compliment to Sprint Arena once basketball season is in full swing … for the Kansas City Raptors in 2016. – John Amick