Bob King invented Lobo basketball. Then when it became apparent it needed a proper home, the good folks of Albuquerque dug a 37-foot deep hole in the ground. That was 50 years ago. It was christened University Arena, but UNM students almost immediately started calling it the Pit. And so it remains. For much of its life, from the outside, it looked like an old warehouse. But on the inside it screamed with a passion for the game for which it was designed.
The Pit was built in 1966 for $1.4 million. In 1975, at a cost of $2.2 million, it expanded, giving it 18,018 seats. It underwent a $60 million renovation in 2009.
The Lobos, of course, benefited the most. That includes the likes of Mel Daniels, Michael Cooper, Danny Granger, Ron Nelson, Greg “Stretch” Howard, Luc Longley, Kenny Thomas and Ira Harge.
But there was a team from North Carolina State that thoroughly enjoyed its visit.
John Wooden, the UCLA wizard, walked its sidelines, as did Bob Knight, who once contemplated coaching UNM.
Still, the greatest emotions were often reserved for the high school teams that vied to be the best in the state.
It was where Hobbs’ Ralph Tasker cemented his legend status. It is the place a Hobbs Eagle named Jeff Taylor roamed, as did his son, Jeffrey Taylor, decades later.
Dale, Pete and Brian Shock took Cliff teams to Albuquerque and returned with trophies. Albuquerque High’s Jim Hulsman put on his green blazer and drove down the street to capture some prizes of his own.
Don Flanagan, before he lit a fire under UNM women’s basketball, lifted the Eldorado girls to dynasty status.
But the place also housed tennis strings and guitar strings. There were boxing matches and flights of gymnasts. It was a place where nations gathered.
Today the Journal takes a look at some of the most iconic games and a handful of the unique moments. Later this week, we will enjoy some of our readers’ memories of a building that rests comfortably — and loudly — in the New Mexico earth.
UNM’s PLANS: The University of New Mexico commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Pit during two games this week.
First, the men play Abilene Christian at 7 p.m. on Wednesday — one day before the actual anniversary of the arena’s Dec. 1, 1966 opening against the same team.
Then on Saturday, Dec. 3, the Lobo women celebrate during their 1 p.m. game against visiting SMU.
UNM is offering a promotion in which fans can attend both games for $20, or a family of four can attend both for $70. Rally towels commemorating the anniversary will be given away Wednesday.