Ducks remember McArthur Court
Oregon's historic arena set to host its final conference game this weekend
They made plenty of memories playing on McArthur Court, but the Oregon Ducks of old especially relished what they experienced beneath the creaky wooden floor, where they huddled up in the locker room before games and listened.
Eagerly awaiting the Kamikaze Kids -- the players on Dick Harter's mid-1970s teams who earned the nickname because of their penchant for diving for loose balls -- were their fans upstairs on three balconies overlooking The Pit, simultaneously stomping their feet to reach a roaring crescendo.[+] EnlargeKevin Reece/Icon SMIMac Court seats only 9,000 and change, but as any opponent knows, every one of the home fans seems to be right on top of the court.
"Hearing everyone on top of you, Coach would have to talk louder in the locker room," former Kamikaze Kid Greg Graham said. "You can't wait to run up those steps. Those doors open, and you feel that energy."
But after 84 seasons, charming Mac Court is scheduled to host its final conference game Saturday. The Ducks are expected to play some nonconference games there next season before moving into the plush $200 million Matthew Knight Arena, where the bathrooms, concession stands and 12,541 seats are sure to be bigger and better.
The ambience of Mac Court, which opened in 1926 with the seats straight up to the roof complete with obstructed views, is what many will miss.
"It's not flashy, but it's very historic," said UO senior guard Tajuan Porter, who set a building record with 10 3-pointers during a 2006 game. "I'm blown away they're closing it."
Oregon fans added to the atmosphere. Students camped outside for games in sleeping bags there before it became fashionable, and after a loss at Mac Court in 1977, UCLA coach Gene Bartow famously called the fans "deranged idiots."
What would give Bartow that idea?
During his era, there was the student known as the Lone Ranger, who rode around on a stick pony, and the guy who came to games wearing a gorilla suit. Fans were known to sneak in live ducks and release them from the balconies.
Graham recalled the time a streaker came out onto the court wearing nothing but a hat and tennis shoes, interrupting a jump ball. And Stu Jackson, now the NBA's executive vice president of basketball operations, fondly remembered his very own fan club.
"There were well-endowed women wearing T-shirts that read, 'Two for Stu,'" the former Kamikaze Kid said with a laugh. "That was a personal highlight. Sure enough, they'd stand up and start shaking."
Bouncing right along was the scoreboard on its suspension cables, and when fans sensed a crucial moment during games, even the baskets would sway.
The noise became deafening because of the low ceiling and seats that were stacked upward rather than outward, with more than 9,000 fans right on top of the action.
"It's very steep," said Graham, now the coach at Boise State. "You almost need a seat belt."[+] EnlargeAP PHOTO/Chris PietschOregon students, seen here taunting former Washington guard Nate Robinson, have played a large part in the McArthur Court aura.
Current coach Ernie Kent played on the Kamikaze Kids teams and said it was Harter with his swarming defenses who made a name for The Pit. Mac Court, the nation's second-oldest on-campus arena still in use (behind Fordham's Rose Hill Gym), served as quite a home-court advantage all the way up to Kent's 2002 and 2007 teams that went to the Elite Eight, with the former going 16-0 in Eugene.
Located across the street from a cemetery, it has stood as a house of horrors for opponents. The Ducks seemed to take particular pleasure in playing powerhouse UCLA throughout the years.
Oregon knocked off John Wooden, Bill Walton and No. 1 UCLA 56-51 on its vibrating home floor in 1974 to hand the Bruins their first consecutive losses in eight years, which landed both teams on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Walton told reporters at Mac Court in January, "I will forever have that stain and stigma on my soul."
Kent was a freshman during that game, and 33 years later as Oregon's coach, the Ducks took down the top-ranked Bruins again in a game that featured a false fire alarm and a winning shot by Aaron Brooks.
UCLA's loss at Mac Court in 1995 was the only blemish on the record of the 1995 national championship team. And after the Ducks routed the Bruins by 31 in 2003, the Pit Crew student section anticipated the firing of coach Steve Lavin and presented him with a "Goodbye Lavin" sign.
The scene turned ugly two years ago when the Pit Crew directed homophobic chants and offensive signs at UCLA star Kevin Love and his family. Athletic director Pat Kilkenny apologized, but former Oregon star Stan Love, Kevin's father, vowed never to return.
UCLA coach Ben Howland called the situation "unfortunate" this week but also said fans at Mac Court have created a great atmosphere. Jackson believes Oregon teams fed off playing in that kind of environment, and memorable games resulted from it.
"It's time the university had the new arena," he said, "but I don't think the past and the memories will ever be forgotten."
Diamond Leung covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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