COLUMBIA – During breaks from the action in the Missouri men's basketball team's first exhibition game on Friday night, highlights from the 32-year history of basketball at the Hearnes Center aired on the arena's jumbo-tron.
Missouri over North Carolina State in 1983. The double-overtime win over No.1 Kansas in 1997. Norm Stewart’s 1993-94 Big 8 championship team. The grainy footage always ended triumphantly, with each clip being deemed a "Hearnes Moment."
The crowd of more than 9,000 at Hearnes on Friday was treated to a memorable live moment before the game even began. Cameras clicked and thousands cheered as the 1993-94 championship team reunited at half court in the same building it made history in twenty years earlier.
“I thought that was absolutely incredible and coach Stewart was just amazing,” Missouri head coach Frank Haith said. “Seeing those guys and their emotions, I was just so happy for them. I was so happy that it turned out the way it did. ”
Missouri defeated Oklahoma City University 73-48 in a game that was the first Missouri basketball contest at Hearnes since 2004. But the game played second-fiddle to the pre-game ceremony, which served as a kind of ultimate homecoming on a weekend full of great events.
Each former player received a deafening outpour of affection from fans, and was given a throwback white uniform that the current Tigers wore for the game. The uniform’s most noteworthy feature was an oversized gold “M” that towered above the smaller, black “issouri” on the front.
The crowd roared for former All-American Melvin Booker. But it erupted for Stewart. Then at halftime, with the Tigers up by 20 points and the buzz dying down, the 78-year-old Stewart took a microphone to half court and re-ignited it.
“We have great fans,” Stewart said.
Stewart received a jersey of his own, even though he never wore one on the sidelines. On a night meant to honor the accomplishments of a memorable team, Stewart stood out like an oversized M and attracted attention like he was painted in gold.
Even the current Tigers – some of whom weren’t even born during the 1993-1994 season – had nostalgia on their minds.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to have such a great year that 20 years from now, we’ll be able to come back,” said guard Jabari Brown, who scored a game-high 15 points. “What stood out was that reception they got.”
Earnest Ross scored 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. After the game, he was able take in the history of the moment and put it in perspective. He said being able to represent Stewart’s team was an honor.
“Some people never get a chance to play on this court,” Ross said. “To represent them we had to do it the right way, to come out and win the game and play hard. I think we did well.”
Supervising editor is Nina Pantic.