February 10, 2013

A Quick Stop In Big D

I like the multiple displays of game stats at the American Airlines Center.
Before my Texas D-League trip gets underway in earnest, I decided to spend a day in Dallas. When I initially scheduled this trip, I planned to travel on Sunday for that day's Texas Legends D-League game but finding that contest had an afternoon start and I might have to rush from the airport to the arena, I thought I should check the Mavericks' schedule to see if there was a home game in Dallas Saturday night. After all, I have Saturday off from work anyway; why not start my vacation a day early if I can? Sure enough, the Mavericks were hosting the Golden State Warriors that night so I switched my plans and decided to leave D.C. a day early.

I was last in Dallas for the AIA Convention in 1999 and I swore I'd never go back. I think my impression of Dallas in '99 was that it was about the ugliest big city I'd ever visited (Troy, NY probably tops the list of ugliest cities of any size for me) and I couldn't imagine voluntarily returning. Of course, I swore the same thing in 2002 or so when I first went to Atlantic City and I went back there last summer of my own free will, so clearly my track record in swearing off visits to cities is less than stellar. Anyway, on Saturday I found myself back in Dallas for a ballgame and whatever else I could get up to between the time my plane landed and tipoff.

The Dallas Mavericks have been one of the most successful NBA franchises over the last decade or more. They have won 50 games each full season since 2000-2001 and in 2011 they won the NBA Championship, beating the Miami Heat in an improbable comeback after being all but buried by Dwayne Wade's second half three point field goal and subsequent "victory" celebration in game two of that series. Before that 2000-2001 season, the first complete season under Mark Cuban's ownership, the Mavericks had been an NBA also-ran, making the playoffs only six times in their first 20 seasons, sort of the spot the Wizards are in right now. But this year has been a down year for Dallas. Before Saturday's game, the Mavs held a 21-28 record, good for 11th in the Western Conference and currently out of playoff contention. As an indicator of how desperate things are this year, the team has pledged to not cut their beards until they reach a .500 record. I wonder how long that will last and if they have to keep them in the off season if they don't reach that goal this year.

They have Slurpees at Mavs games. Cool!
So Saturday night I found myself in the lower level of American Airlines Center attending an NBA game that I had no skin in for the first time since I saw the New Jersey Nets beat the Charlotte Hornets in the 2002 playoffs in North Carolina. Incredibly, I have no bias against either the Mavericks or the Golden State Warriors. Neither team has any former Wizards who I think "wronged" our franchise nor has either knocked us out of the playoffs ever. I love Dallas because they beat LeBron James and the Heat in the NBA Finals and I like Golden State because they have one of the most loyal fan bases despite many recent years of mostly losing (I'm sympathetic I guess). I watched a Wizards-Warriors several years ago with some Warriors season ticket holders in the sports book of the Excalibur hotel in Las Vegas and we swapped stories about being fans and season ticket holders before the Wizards won the game and I got a congratulatory free beer out of the exchange.

Over the last 20 or so years, I've been to professional basketball games in a handful of cities. With the exception of New York's Madison Square Garden (classic) and the old Charlotte Coliseum (awful), most of the NBA arenas I have been to are mid-1990's vintage or later and they all look pretty much the same, except for the arena in Indianapolis, which is a cut above. Basketball is played on a standard size symmetrical court so there is very little flexibility in arena design, unlike baseball whose parks can have dimensional and other sorts of quirks that lend character to the game experience. The American Airlines Center where the Mavs play looks pretty much just like Verizon Center in D.C., just with a slightly different layout and without VC's terrible purple seats.

In the game experience category, I give the nod to D.C. We somehow seem more genuine in our pursuit of fans' attention. But there are three aspects of the game experience I'll give the Mavs an edge in: cheaper beer ($8 gets you 24 oz. of Bud, rather than 20 oz. at VC); game stats are far easier to see due to stats on the faces and corners of the scoreboard and at a huge monitor at the end of the arena; and Dallas has the Mavs Maniaacs, who are basically a bunch of fat guys making noise for the home team all game long (they beat our Power Pack to a pulp). I assume the double A in the Maniaacs name is for American Airlines. And I guess if I had ever had a Slurpee, I might give some props to the 7-Eleven stand in the arena too.

Saturday I decided to root for the home team despite having nothing against the Warriors and the game was a bit of a laugher, similar to the Wizards' thumping of the Nets the previous night. The Mavs built a 26 point halftime lead before Golden State made a little run to make the game seem close (but never within single digits) in the third quarter before Dallas put them away and emptied their bench with about four minutes to go. All in all, as the middle game of three consecutive professional basketball games in three straight days (and three different cities) for me, it was a good warmup to three D-League games in the next four nights.

The former Texas School Book Depository. The X is the spot where the second and fatal shot hit Kennedy.
Before the game, I tried desperately to find something in Dallas that was more attractive and exciting than I found during my trip in 1999. And I think I found something which almost changed my opinion about the city. Since it was relatively near the arena and my hotel, I made my way over to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. The museum sits in the West End Historic District which is an area of town being redeveloped from what appears to be an older industrial area of town to a museum, shopping and nightlife area. It's starting to get there. The museums and western wear shops are cool, but they should kick out T.G.I. Friday's in favor of something with a little more soul.

The Sixth Floor Museum itself is located in the building which used to be known as the Texas School Book Depository. If that name rings a bell, it's because that is the building Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed President John F. Kennedy from on November 22, 1963. The museum occupies the sixth and (ironically) seventh floors of the building and chronicles the assassination and legacy of Kennedy. The museum does a very effective job of capturing the events of that November day 50 years ago. Being able to walk around Dealey Plaza after touring the museum really allows you to figure out what happened where. The area is very much the same as it was in 1963. I watched Oliver Stone's film JFK on the flight down to Dallas to get some background on the assassination before visiting the exhibits. The museum touches on some of the conspiracy theory laid out in the movie but ultimately sticks to the official story. I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist myself. I prefer (probably naively) to take things at face value and trust the government but it seems like there are an a awful lot of fishy circumstances surrounding the assassination and the subsequent murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, the one and only suspect in the case.

Only a dreary day and a Segway tour group could make the Kennedy Memorial look worse.
Next to the museum sits the Kennedy Memorial, a Philip Johnson designed monument to Kennedy. I have to say if I paid Johnson for this design, I'd feel taken. This thing's an absolute eyesore. There's a description of the memorial on the museum's website. I've written enough fluffy architectural descriptions in my life to tell you that what's written on the website sounds way better than the actual memorial.

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