Fremont Street goes big time with bracket


It is billed as the World's Largest NCAA Tournament Bracket, and it was supposed to be up by Tuesday, on the canopy of the Fremont Street Experience downtown. But when I went down there around midnight to check out the giant Viva Vision screen, there were only ads for deep-fried Twinkies at Mermaid's casino and whatnot, while a Van Halen tribute band was professing hotness for its teacher.

Apparently, it takes longer to put "North Carolina Asheville" up in lights -- 12 million diode lamps, in fact -- than anybody at first imagined.

Conversely, it takes only a couple of minutes to deep fry a Twinkie. Or an Oreo. Or a betting slip with Mississippi Valley State on the money line.

Also, for the first time I could remember, Don McLean's "American Pie" wasn't playing over the 220 loudspeakers powered by the 550,000 watts, and this seemed a bigger upset than Brigham Young coming from 25 points down to beat Iona.

Tom Bruny, marketing director for the Fremont Street Experience, is the Jay Bilas of the World's Largest Bracket. He can explain everything.

The NCAA Tournament bracket runs the entire length and width of the Experience canopy, which is 1,500 feet by 90 feet, Bruny said.

The canopy curves, like one of Chace Stanback's jump shots when he's having an off night. The apex of its ceiling is 90 feet above the pedestrian mall, or nearly as tall as Kentucky's front line.

The light-emitting diode bracket isn't shown continuously, because that would take all of the electricity generated at Hoover Dam and by Dick Vitale on Selection Sunday.

Plus, how are all those Johnny Depp lookalikes with the "Pirates of Penzance" eyeliner expected to hit you up for a tip for having your picture taken with them when you're studying the giant overhead bracket for the winner of the Louisville-Davidson game?

Bruny says the bracket will be shown several times each hour after it gets dark outside, so there will be ample opportunity to see Duke advance in the bracket. This must be the way the NCAA wants it, or why else would the Blue Devils be playing in Greensboro, N.C., against a bunch of deep-fried Twinkies?

The Fremont Street Experience employs six graphic artists -- curiously,  none is named Lunardi or majored in bracketology -- who designed the canopy bracket program. They operate out of a nerve center on the second floor of the Fremont Center parking garage, sort of like Clark Kellogg at CBS control, except they don't use silly expressions such as "score the basketball."

The bracket idea was Bruny's.

"We have the largest video screen, so why not have the largest bracket?" he said. "We had it up Sunday night, just a few hours after it was announced."

The bracket is the focal point of the "March Hoops" celebration on Fremont Street, which includes tribute bands and dancing girls -- the Hardwood Hotties and the Dream Team Divas -- and the "High Hoops Zone," which isn't a euphemism for Matt Shaw's hotel room after UNLV's loss to Northern Iowa a couple of years ago, but a place where fans can shoot baskets for prizes at rims that are 20, 25 and 30 feet in the air, so not even the Mountain West officiating crews will be tempted to call goaltending.

Several Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley impersonators from the rock group KISS also will be making the rounds dressed as No. 6 seeds with platform heels.

I asked Bruny if he had any desire to put his bracket up in lights, and he said no, because he had Kansas winning, and don't ask him why.

A longtime UNLV season-ticket holder, Bruny said he would be heading to Albuquerque, N.M., to watch the Rebels open NCAA Tournament play against Colorado tonight.

"Hopefully, when the complete bracket is released on Viva Vision," he said, "it'll have UNLV as champion."

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

 

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