Municipal Auditorium: College Basketball Still Lives In Its KC CathedralPosted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 19th, 2014
There’s a revival underway at one of the cathedrals of college basketball. Once upon a time, John Wooden paced the sidelines in this building and Wilt Chamberlain took the floor here. But this isn’t Pauley Pavilion or Allen Fieldhouse; rather, Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City. Municipal doesn’t have the instant credibility of The Palestra or Hinkle Fieldhouse, but it’s nearly as old as those fabled venues, and steeped in just as much history.
Municipal has hosted more Final Fours than any other building in the country (nine) and the second-most total tournament games (only Dayton Arena, buoyed by the First Four, has hosted more). Wooden won his fist national championship on Municipal’s floor by beating Duke in 1964, his 16th season on the bench in Westwood. The win was also the finishing touch on Wooden’s first of four undefeated seasons at UCLA (30-0). Three years before that, Cincinnati walked off Municipal’s floor as national champions, surviving a 27-point effort from Ohio State’s Jerry Lucas in the final. The Buckeyes got two points from a reserve forward named Bob Knight in the 1961 championship game; as it turned out, that one field goal wouldn’t be the pinnacle of his basketball career. Kansas reached the 1957 finals at Municipal on the back of Chamberlain (that tournament’s Most Outstanding Player), but fell in triple overtime to Frank McGuire-coached North Carolina. This was the Tar Heels’ first championship and second Final Four appearance, and things have gone pretty well in Chapel Hill ever since.
Jump ahead a half-century and Municipal’s longstanding run with college basketball is seeing a resurgence. The Missouri-Kansas City Kangaroos began playing home games at the arena when they became a Division I program in 1987-88. The ‘Roos stayed there until 2010-11 when they were forced to move on campus due to increased rental costs and declining ticket sales, according to UMKC Sports Information Director Rob McCutcheon. This largely shuttered Division I basketball’s nearly century-old relationship with Municipal. But “major change” was the theme for UMKC’s basketball program this past offseason. The ‘Roos moved from the Summit League to the reconfigured WAC and replaced head coach Matt Brown with Louisville assistant Kareem Richardson. With this change came a return to Municipal, which underwent $5 million in renovations that included new video boards and upgrades to the seating, lighting and sound system.
Long ago Municipal served as a launching pad of sorts for blue-blooded programs UCLA and North Carolina, at least in terms of championships. On a much smaller scale, UMKC certainly hopes the arena can help launch its program into the WAC’s upper tier. On Saturday night, Richardson picked up the biggest win of his young tenure, as the ‘Roos (6-11, 3-2) knocked off New Mexico State (14-7, 3-2), the conference’s heavy preseason favorite and a team that already owns wins at New Mexico and UTEP. Attendance was spotty, but the old arena came alive with under a minute to go as senior Nelson Kirksey broke a tie with a mid-range jumper. Marvin Menzies got a career-night from senior Renaldo Dixon (33 points), but it was necessary because UMKC did a good job not letting WAC preseason Player of the Year Daniel Mullings drive to the basket (three points on 1-of-11 shooting).
Martez Harrison won the game with a pair of free throws with four seconds left after an inexplicable foul by Mullings. Harrison is the type of the player Richardson can use to bring excitement back into Muncipal’s venerable old bones. The freshman guard is a local product who played his prep basketball at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, but decided to return home despite offers from Southern Illinois and St. Bonaventure. He’s the type of dynamic, quick athlete who could excel in the up-tempo Rick Pitino-style system. Richardson can use that style of play as a key recruiting tool, as well as the ring he won sitting by Pitino’s side with the Cardinals last season. Having one of the most historic venues in the country as a home court advantage can’t hurt either.