30 things to know about The Pyramid as the Memphis landmark turns 30 – Commercial Appeal

With apologies to ESPN, here are 30 for 30: Thirty Pyramid facts to mark the 30th birthday of Memphis' Egyptian-shaped arena turned Bass Pro superstore,The Pyramid.

1. In a case of trying-too-hard, The Pyramid originally was going to be called "The Great American Pyramid." T-shirts featuringthat name above a drawing of the planned pyramid were distributed to members of the media. Some people made comparisons to the Great American Soup, a short-lived brand of canned condensed soup introduced by Heinz in 1970 in a failed attempt to compete with Campbell's.

2. At 321 feet in height, The Pyramid is said to be 32 stories tall. The slanted sides measure 591 feet.

3.The base is the size of 5.5 football fields.

4.The installation of 8,384 stainless steel panels that function as The Pyramid's "skin" began on Oct. 30, 1990. The panels cover 6.9 acres.

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5. The cost: $65.5 million in public funds, and about $4.5 million in private funds.

6. Among the attractions planned for but never in fact developed forThe Pyramid: A Hard Rock Cafe. A College Football Hall of Fame. A Grammy museum. A Dick Clark American Music Awards Hall of Fame. A radio station to play Memphis music 14 hours a day. An aquarium ("AquariuMemphis"). A slanted elevator known as an"inclinator," to take visitors on a slow ascent up the exterior of the building to an observation point at the summit. Many of these ideas were promoted by Denver Nuggets owner turned Bluff City transplant and Pyramid manager, Sidney Shlenker.

7. Shlenker was ousted as Pyramid manager on June 17, 1991, just a few months after the ultimately unreliable native Louisiananhad been touted as "Memphian of the Year" on the cover of Memphis magazine. Shlenker's company filed bankruptcy in July, the same month most of The Pyramid was completed. Under terms of a court order, Shlenker was barred from entering the structure.

8. Astatue of the pharaoh Ramesses the Great stood in front of The Pyramid for some 20 years, untilit was moved to the Central Avenue side of the University of Memphis campus in 2012. The statue isfiberglass replica of a3,200-year-oldsculpturediscovered in 1820 in the ruins of ancient Memphis in Egypt.

9. The first public viewing of the Pyramid was held on Sept. 6, 1991. Visitors were restricted to the main floor.

10. The Pyramid opened more or less officially on Nov. 9, 1991, with a concert by mother-and-daughter country artists Naomi and WynonnaJudd.

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11. The Judds probably sounded fine, but The Pyramid's debut was less than auspicious: Before the country duotook the stage, an "announcement came over the public address system," reported a writer covering the opening forthe South Florida Sun Sentinel."It asked us all to refrain, for the time being, from using the restrooms because of flooding on the east side of The Pyramid... I could see firefighters in waterproof boots and coveralls pushing back small tides with wooden-handled squeegees." Or, as The Commercial Appeal headline reported: "Pyramid Visitors Gush; So Do Drains." Years later, a construction superintendentsaid that "atest to see if the Pyramid's plumbing could handle high-volume flushing was not done, but it should have been."

12. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played The Pyramid on their so-called "Reunion" tour on March 18, 2000. According to the concert website setlist.fm, the pre-sound check included a Memphicentric Springsteen original titled "I'm Turning into Elvis" that the Boss did not perform during the actual show. Too bad: To date, the last time Springsteen has played that song for the public was during his Nov. 19, 1996, solo show inMemphis, at the Auditorium North Hall.

13. The "World's Greatest Rap Show Ever" tour lived up its name: Thelineup that rolled into The Pyramid on Dec. 30, 1991, included Public Enemy, the Geto Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, Naughty by Nature, Kid 'n Play, Oaktown 3-5-7, the Leaders of the New School and DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince (the "Fresh Prince," of course, being TV star and future blockbuster movie actor Will Smith). However, only about 5,000 fans attended, making it"by far the smallest Pyramid concert to date," according to The Commercial Appeal, which blamed the low turnout on high prices: Tickets were $23 each.

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14.Prince played The Pyramid in 1997, 2000 and 2004. During that last show, he injected some Memphis Stax soul into his Minneapolis Paisley Park funk with a cover of the 1966 Eddie Floyd classic "Knock on Wood."

15. Making its first Memphis appearance since a Mid-South Coliseum show in 1970, the Grateful Dead occupied The Pyramid for two nights, April 1 and 2, 1995. Meanwhile, an itinerant caravan of "Deadhead" fans and vendors occupied much of the adjacent Pinch District for the weekend, selling tie-dyed wares andrainbow "dancing bear" stickers, or hoisting a finger in the air to signify the need for a "miracle" (a ticket to the show).

16. The starin the private boxwasbigger than the stars on the stage when Michael Jackson joined his then-spouse Lisa Marie Presley and Lisa Marie's mother, Priscilla Presley, for an Oct. 10, 1994, musical extravaganza titled"Elvis Aaron Presley: The Tribute."According to The Commercial Appeal, "a sellout crowd of 17,000 watched performers such as Aaron Neville, Tony Bennett, Iggy Pop, Marty Stuart, Sammy Hagar, Dwight Yoakam, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis sing their favorite Elvis songs. The show also was broadcast on a pay-per-view basis on cable television."

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17. Not every Pyramid entertainment act featured an electric guitar or scratch turntable. On Sept. 25, 1999, Moscow's two-century-oldBolshoi Ballet came to the arena, accompanied by an 11-piece chamber orchestra. Complaining about "craning my neck," The Commercial Appeal's reviewer carpedthat The Pyramid felt more like a sportsarenathan an arts venue, "particularly when some folks clomped up past me with their snacks and drinks."

18. The Vancouver-no-more Grizzlies occupied The Pyramid for their first three seasons in Memphis. The team played its first game here on Nov. 1, 2001, in a 90-80 lossto the Detroit Pistons. The Grizzlies starting lineup consisted of Shane Battier, Michael Dickerson, Stromile Swift, Jason Williams and former University of Memphis standout Lorenzen Wright.

19. In that game, rookie Pau Gasol scored four points and collected four rebounds. He went on to be named that season's NBA Rookie of the Year.

20. The University of Memphis Tigers played men's basketball at The Pyramid from 1991 to 2004. The tenure marked the conclusion of Larry Finch's coaching career, the entirety of Penny Hardaway's career as a college player, and the start of John Calipari's run as Tigers coach.

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21. "Bob Huggins" and "Cincinnati": Words often synonymous with "misery" for Tigers fans. In 1993, the (now defunct) Great Midwest Conference held its men's basketball tournament at The Pyramid, and Huggins' Bearcats defeated Finch's Tigers 77-72 in the final. It was the second of three years in a row when the conference final would pit Memphis against Cincinnati, with Cincy coming out on top each time.

22.In a coup for the arena, the 1994 and 1997 SEC men's basketball tournaments were held at The Pyramid. The winning team both years was the Rick Pitino-coached Kentucky Wildcats.

23.Locally, at least, the June 8, 2002, heavyweight boxing match between Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson is remembered more for itsaccompanying celebrity-studded circus atmosphere than its outcome. So what did happen? This: Lewis was declared the winner by a knockout,after Tyson did not attempt to regain his feet after being slugged to the canvas for the second time in the eighth round.

24. A "National Affairs Briefing" hosted by Memphis-based "religious right" leader Ed McAteer brought what The Commercial Appeal described as a "lower-than-expected turnout" of about 4,000 conservative Christians to The Pyramid in January 1996. Among the speakers were Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell and Republican presidential candidates Pat Buchanan andPhil Gramm.

25. Among the uses for The Pyramid in the interregnum between entertainment arena and outdoors store: a movie facility. In 2005, director Craig Brewer converted the arena into a makeshift casting office for his feature film "Black Snake Moan"; some 1,400 hopefuls stood in long lines to apply for a role in the film. Production also took place in The Pyramid; on the arena floor, Brewer constructed a cabin set, complete with soon to be infamousradiator (the radiator to which blues singer Samuel L. Jackson would chain "nympho" Christina Ricci).

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26. In the mid-1990s, the Memphis in May International Festival tried to broaden its slate of events beyond barbecue and "Beale Street" by organizing an annual "Tattoo," a variety show extravaganza of militarybands, bagpipers dancers and more, showcasing the culture of the year's "honored" country. For example, in 1994, when Memphis in May's honored country was the Ivory Coast, elephants were marched through The Pyramid, accompanied by stilt-walkers, African dancers and "more than 300 Memphis school children... wearing African-style clothing." An expensive and time-consuming endeavor, theTattoo was droppedafter its secondyear.

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27. The Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid hostedits grand opening on April 29, 2015.

28. The Bass Pro Pyramid is home to Big Cypress Lodge, which contains 105 rooms "unique spaces," according to Bass Pro, that "offer the rustic elegance of a charming mountain resort but are perched inside one of the most well-known structures in the U.S."

29. Also inside Bass Pro: the second-floor Ducks Unlimited Waterfowling Heritage Center, a 4,600-square-footspace that functions as history lesson and folk art gallery, showcasing hand-carvedduck decoys and other "waterfowling" items, from the colonial era to the present.

30.The last big show at The Pyramid took place on Feb. 3, 2007: Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band. Appropriately, Seger ended his encore with "Rock & Roll Never Forgets."

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30 things to know about The Pyramid as the Memphis landmark turns 30 - Commercial Appeal

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