KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There was a time when New York City rightly could claim to be the capital of college basketball, but with all due respect to this weekend’s NCAA East Regional at Madison Square Garden . . . um, no.
This century, there are those who would make that argument about the Lexington/Louisville axis (the Louisville market annually draws the highest TV ratings for college hoops) and Tobacco Road in North Carolina.
But many folks in Kansas City would raise their hands — in a polite, Midwestern fashion — for a claim on the honor, and they have physical evidence to support it.
This week’s NCAA Midwest Regional at Sprint Center is being held about a third of a mile from old Municipal Auditorium, which still stands.
It hosted the second, third and fourth NCAA men’s championships from 1940-42 and nine overall, the last of them in 1964. That is more than any other arena. Add the Final Four at Kemper Arena in 1988, and that’s 10, more than any other city.
(New York is tied with Indianapolis for second place at seven, the last at the Garden in 1950. Some illegal gambling unpleasantness ensued, and that was that.)
Municipal Auditorium still is in use, including as home of University of Missouri-Kansas City basketball, and recently underwent a renovation. But it retains the Art Deco touches it has had since its 1935 opening.
Further adding to Kansas City’s pitch is nearby University of Kansas, home of a program that ranks second all-time in Division I victories, was first coached by the game’s inventor, James Naismith, and this weekend is the Midwest’s top seed.
But to make sure we get the point, in 2007 the National Association of Basketball Coaches opened the College Basketball Experience adjacent to the Sprint Center — which also opened that year — of which the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame is a part.
The experience of visiting the Experience is not to be confused with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, with which it has a working relationship.
The one here does include a Hall of Fame room honoring inductees, starting with a big initial class to which more have been added.
But fans seeking a deep educational or historical dive will get more out of the Hall in Springfield. This one has a strong participatory focus.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially if one has young people in tow. Fans in town for the regional gravitated Thursday morning to the impressive array of hoops-related activities centered on the second floor.
They include opportunities to shoot buzzer-beaters, free throws, three-point shots and dunks, as well as to play on a full court or a three-on-three halfcourt.
One also can measure his or her reach compared to former college stars, as well as height and vertical leap.
Lessons learned by one visiting 6-1, 200-pound sportswriter:
My horizontal reach matches that of Nate Robinson.
My vertical leap is six-to-nine inches, depending on my mood.
I can dunk impressively — on an eight-foot basket.
The three-point line is really far from the basket. Really, really far.
I am very bad at basketball.