Stevens: The Pit Embraces Its High-Tech Future While Honoring its Time-Tested Core
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  10/27/2010
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Oct. 27, 2010

2:30 p.m.:
Lobo men's practice, UNM students only
3:30 p.m.: Lobo men's practice open to all fans
5 p.m.: Pit Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony
6-7 p.m.: Suite/Club Level open, Lobo Den, Concessions, Ticket Sales

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

The new Pit is about to be cracked open the way a proud jeweler might open an oyster to display the special gem within. The Pit is pearl-like, too, in the way the structure has been layered in a modernistic makeover of technology, glass, progress and pure beauty.

Finally, The Pit, build in 1966, embraces a glorious future, a future that comes with the $60 million price tag that pulled University Arena into the 21st century and makes it a gym with few, if any, equals.

The Pit is probably the most famous hole in New Mexico ground since the Carlsbad Caverns, but with one obvious advantage. You can't mess with Mother Nature and stalagmites. You can add 60,000 square feet, 40 suites, 365 club seats, video and ribbon boards, expanded concourses, kiosks, a Lettermen's Lounge and much, much more to The Pit.

It is a renovation probably long overdue for an old gym that has stood the test of time admirably for 44 years. Even as other multi-purpose arenas popped up here and there, not many received the national attention or acclaim as UNM's sunken gym.

The joint is famous, really. In 1999, Sports Illustrated rated The Pit as one of the Top 20 sporting venues of the 20th Century. That prestigious list included Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field, Pebble Beach and Daytona. That's like being compared to Babe Ruth, Joe Louis, Man O' War, or maybe the Roman Empire.

Also that year, "Hoops across America," rated The Pit and its rowdies as the loudest collegiate venue in the nation with a decibel level of 118, beating out Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, which hit the 116 mark.

The Pit was surely was immortalized in NCAA Championship lore as the site of the April 2-4, 1983 Final Four when Lorenzo Charles of North Carolina State rose up like "Jaws" to stuff in a dying prayer tossed up by Derek Whittenburg.


"The character of The Pit was never to be compromised. Our fans make The Pit special and we will always embrace that first."
Paul Krebs, UNM VP of Athletics

That desperation air ball followed by that improbable dunk was followed by Jim Valvano's wild-man dash around The Pit floor looking for somebody, anybody to hug simply to validate that NC State's Cinderella charge to the top was not a dream.

And The Pit was embedded into a nation's basketball consciousness.

The Pit has had other brilliant moments, too. Before Kareem Abdul Jabbar was Kareem, he played in The Pit under the name of Lew Alcinder. The Pit was where Bobby Knight mugged his "Game Faces" ESPN highlight reel and pulled out a whip to mock-whip Indiana's Calbert Cheaney.

It's where Lobo Marvin Johnson scored 50 points, where Don Flanagan's Lobos played in the Sweet 16, where Petie Gibson broke the Aggies heart at the buzzer, where Mick Jagger stuck out his tongue to a mob of rockers, and where The Pit stuck out a collective tongue at BYU's Danny Ainge.

The Pit has opened its floor to The Eagles, Jethro Tull, Elton John, James Taylor, Led Zeppelin, Luciano Pavarotti, George Strait, John Wooden, Rick Pitino, Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman and on and on and on.

The new-look Pit

On Monday, The Pit opens its floor to what really makes The Pit special - its fans.

"They are the nuttiest, craziest bunch I have ever been around," ex-Hawaii coach Riley Wallace once said of Pit fans. "You have to see it to believe it."

Sure, The Pit is prettier as it pulls technology closer to its heart, but the true heart, the core of The Pit goes unchanged. A lot of the splash, a lot of the bells and whistles are above The Pit's chest while down below in that sunken stew of Lobo love, not much has changed.

"The character of The Pit was never to be compromised," said Paul Krebs, UNM's Vice President for Athletics. "Our fans make The Pit special and we will always embrace that first."

The Pit is really about basketball and those roots lovingly wrap around two basketball teams of Lobos, giving New Mexico a home court edge that has few equals in NCAA ball. "It's really unbelievable," said Lobo coach Steve Alford. "And now it only gets better."

For sure, The Pit is better. The old look of the arena that sits on a mesa to the West of University Stadium had more the feel of a warehouse. It was a stale look, a slightly boring look. It had the look of a gym built in 1966 for $1.4 million.

Now, The Pit is glassy and high-tech and juts up to scratch a skyline and a future. Now, The Pit offers a stunning look at the Sandia Mountains to the East and a seductive view of sunsets to the West.

And just wait `til you see what's inside.

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and Sports Columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net.