EUGENE, Ore. – With a gala celebration capped by a victory, Oregon christened Matthew Knight Arena, the $227 million replacement for aged but beloved McArthur Court.
The debut of the Ducks' court with its distinctive floor was originally supposed to happen at the start of the Pac-10 season, but it was delayed back in August just in case the school's football team went to a bowl game. Smart move, because it turns out that Oregon went to the BCS championship.
The Ducks played their last game at Mac Court, as it was known, on New Year's Day. Oregon fell 60-55 to Arizona State.
Now that the big football game — a 22-19 loss to Auburn on Monday night — is over, Oregon's focus turned to the opening Thursday night of the 12,500-seat facility, named after the late son of Nike co-founder and Ducks benefactor Phil Knight and his wife, Penny.
Nike made special "Mac2Matt" T-shirts to commemorate the even. Knight even addressed the crowd.
"I've got to believe Matthew's looking down pleased, as my grandmother would say, pleased as punch," Knight said.
Football coach Chip Kelly sat courtside. Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott was also in attendance.
The Ducks celebrated beating USC 68-62.
First-year head coach Dana Altman said the team had its first practices this week on the intricately designed floor, which is designed to look as if its shadowed by fir trees. Some have suggested that it make take some time for players to get used to.
The half-court line, for example, is very faint.
"The floor is something I think they like, and I don't think they'll have problems with it at all," Altman said.
Fan Ken Womer from Klamath Falls, Ore., got back from his bowl trip to Arizona on Wednesday night and drove to Eugene for the opening on Thursday morning. An alum, he used to sneak into Mac Court at night for pickup games.
He praised Matt Court as "first class."
"It was neat to see (Knight) him do that. He doesn't get out front much, so I was glad to see the fans give him a standing ovation," Womer said. "He deserves it."
The Knights donated $100 million to the athletic department's Legacy Fund, which helped jump-start the new arena project. Their son Matthew died in a 2004 scuba diving accident in El Salvador, where he was working for an orphanage.
Mac Court was the second oldest active on-campus arena in Division I, just two years younger than Fordham's Rose Hill Gym. The first men's game was played there on Jan. 14, 1927, when Oregon defeated Willamette 38-10.
The building was later home to the Oregon's famed "Tall Firs" team, which beat Ohio State 46-33 to win the first NCAA basketball championship in 1939.
What Mac Court lacked in modern conveniences, it made up in character. Known as one of the more intimidating courts in the Pac-10, the raucous "Pit Crew" could shake the baskets just by stomping.
Altman said the new arena, with a state-of-the-art video scoreboard that has been dubbed "Knight Vision," should stand the test of time too, and will likely help with recruiting.
"Great venue," he said in a conference call with Pac-10 coaches earlier this week. "I think our fans will really enjoy it. I think our players definitely will — new locker rooms, the player's lounge, all those things will make it a great home for us."