The Day Sport Venues Changed In Oklahoma

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On December 4, 1972, the weather was a chilly 26 degrees. Traffic was backed-up on Lewis Avenue and spanned more than 3 miles. The impressive scoreboard had just arrived earlier that morning and hung proudly on display, not showing any signs of last-minute tinkering and installation challenges. A sigh of relief moved among the staff at Oral Roberts University (ORU).

So began the ORU Titans’ inaugural game at the Mabee Center, the new arena named after local oilman and philanthropist, John Mabee. Moving up to Division I basketball only a year before, the forerunners of today’s Golden Eagles were hosting the University of Wisconsin and all eyes were as much on the gleaming stadium as on the players.

The Titans’ legendary shooting guard, Richard Fuqua, scored the game’s first 2 points and ORU went on to win the match. It was a fitting celebration to Reverend Oral Roberts’ original vision of a state-of-the-art entertainment center on the growing University that bore his name.

ORU regularly played host to conventions, conferences, seminars, concerts, and theater and television productions. Showcasing some 300 events a year, the need for a grand, multi-purpose center was an easy sell for the college Founder and Chancellor.

Built at a cost of $11 million, the 11,300-seat facility was the largest on-campus basketball venue in the state of Oklahoma. Today, the lifespan of many arenas is less than 20 years, but the “Magnificent Mabee Center” as dubbed by Roberts, is in its 47th year of operation and arguably as efficient as when it opened in 1972.

Reunion Arena in Dallas, for instance, was replaced after only 15 years of dutiful service. The Chesapeake Arena (Originally named the Ford Center) in Oklahoma City, was built in 2002 and has required repeated renovation, updating and alterations to sustain today’s demands on sport venues.

When Mabee Center opened, its scoreboard was the only one in Tulsa that displayed a three-digit score. Roberts himself chuckled at the regular use of this three-digit display as the ORU men’s basketball team routinely scored over 100 points with Coach Ken Trickey’s ‘run and gun’ style of play.

Preferring to let the scoreboard speak for itself, Roberts wouldn’t allow his students or guests to “boo” an opposing team during games. Whenever such noise erupted, he would step up to the microphone and urge the crowd to refrain; they always complied.

Other local venues had older scoreboards that would roll over and show the score as 01. In Roberts’ opinion, this wasn’t as eye-catching as having the entire score in large, block numbers. The renowned televangelist appreciated grandeur and he got it at his new arena.

In the years to come, the NCAA would host tournament matches at the Mabee Center: 1974, 1975, 1978, 1982 and 1985. In 1974, the ORU men’s basketball team reached the “Elite Eight, the school’s best ever performance. The NIT also chose Mabee to host games in 1977, 1980, 1982 and 1983. The NAIA Men’s National Championships followed from 1994-1998.

But it’s not just college basketball that found its way to the oval-shaped indoor stadium. The campus facility has hosted the Harlem Globetrotters, the Olympic Gymnastic Trials and the Oklahoma High School Basketball playoffs. The Miss Oklahoma Pageant has called the Mabee Center home for more than 10 years.

World famous entertainers have also gone through the doors, such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Billy Joel, Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, Garth Brooks and the Bee Gees.

A popular venue for nearly 5 decades, the basketball-rich Mabee Center has showcased all forms of entertainment for ORU, the surrounding community and Oklahoma residents.

Submitted by Terry Shannon, Sports Management Associate Professor, Oral Roberts University.  Tshannon@ORU.edu  Twitter @ORUSportMgmt

Other articles enjoyed:  What's In A Stadium Name?, 70 Years Of NFL Relocations, Demolition On The Diamond, Soccer's Uglies

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