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Hornets Insider: Favorite NBA Arenas, Part 1
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
August 8, 2011



Aside from coaches and players, few people who work in the NBA have the opportunity to visit all 29 of the leagues arenas and cities (the Lakers and Clippers share Staples Center in Los Angeles). One group who does enjoy this rare privilege? NBA team public-relations personnel. Throughout the course of each NBA regular season, this group of men and women travel with their teams to as many as 41 road games all over the U.S. and Canada.

Given their unique experience of knowing the leagues basketball venues inside and out, I thought it would be interesting to get their opinions on a range of topics that perhaps only they are qualified to discuss. We start by surveying NBA PR members to try to answer this question: What is the best NBA arena?

The only rule was that out of fairness respondents were not allowed to list their own teams arena in their top 10. Before we get into the surveys findings, here are the nine members of our panel:

Tim Gelt
Denver Nuggets
Scott Hall
Washington Wizards
Jim LaBumbard
Toronto Raptors
Sarah Melton
Dallas Mavericks
Michael Preston
Philadelphia 76ers
Jonathan Rinehart
Utah Jazz
Dennis Rogers
New Orleans Hornets
Collin Romer
Portland Trail Blazers
Arthur Triche
Atlanta Hawks

Using a points system of 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, I was able to rank the overall favorite arenas of those who participated. Well get to the first half of the top 10 shortly, but first lets start with a few of the NBA venues that just missed the cut. These arenas are listed in order of how many points they received:

HONORABLE MENTION


Miami (AmericanAirlines Arena)
Like trendy South Beach and the city the Heat calls home, this venue stands out for its hip ambience and the intangible feeling that its THE hot spot in Miami on game nights.

I really enjoy the vibe in the building (DJ Irie, the dancers, PA announcer, courtside clubs) and everything is just very convenient, wrote Preston, whose 76ers faced the Heat in the 2011 playoffs. The buildings contemporary design is one of my favorites.

Rogers: It just musters cool. Its a top-three arena in terms of niceness and facilities. The crowd may not be as loud as some arenas, but they are definitely cooler than other arenas. Its always a fun place to play, another arena that is in the category of a place to be seen.

The arenas placement, on Biscayne Bay in downtown Miami, also makes it one of the most picturesque sites in the league, according to Gelt: Its right on the water, which is a pretty unique location for an NBA arena.

New Orleans (New Orleans Arena)
Romer: The locker room/media room/bench/walkoff interview room distances are very close in proximity. Which is great, because for whatever reason, I can never get much sleep in the Big Easy.

Houston (Toyota Center)
Preston: I really like this building. The design is cool and incorporates some pretty unique elements, from the Toyota truck perched in the corner of the building to their cool scoreboard effects, featuring rocket boosters that emerge from the bottom, blowing off smoke and ascending at the conclusion of their intro video.

Utah (EnergySolutions Arena)
The Jazz have been one of the NBAs most successful home teams over the years, perhaps partly due to how uncomfortable their fans have made the experience for visiting clubs.

Not many people would believe this, but these fans are intimidating! Rogers wrote of Salt Lake City supporters. They are on top of the court, constantly yelling at the visitors and the arena is always sold out. If you can get a W in Utah, that is special.

Hall: Utahs fans are second only to OKC in decibel levels, and the layout of the seating at Jazz games puts them right on top of the action.

Romer: A very calm, easy, functional game-day experience until you hear the fans in your ears.

Cleveland (Quicken Loans Arena)
LaBumbard: They have the best game operations in the league. Something is always going on that is over the top.

Milwaukee (Bradley Center)
Triche: I believe they are the only franchise with a house band (Streetlife with Warren Wiegratz) and I always love listening to them.

Sacramento (Power Balance Pavilion)
Rinehart: When it is packed, this place really rocks. It can get really loud and their fans get as into it as any place in the league.


Now we move on to the list of arenas that ranked in the top 10 overall. Here are the venues that finished in the second half of the top 10:

COUNTING DOWN THE TOP 10


10. Phoenix (U.S. Airways Center)
Coming up on two decades since its opening, the Suns home facility drew a wide range of opinions. Two panelists listed U.S. Airways Center in their top four, while five did not even mention it in their top 10. Among Western Conference PR personnel who visit the venue often, though, it generated several positive reviews.

Dallas Melton wrote: For an arena built in 1992, it is as functional as any of the brand-new arenas in the NBA. The press room is great, the security people are wonderful, the visiting locker room is decent-sized and the practice court is around the corner. I still really love it.

Utahs Rinehart: The arena is a little older and not that fancy, but the crowds are generally strong and into the games. The Gorilla is fun, the dancers are very talented, and where else do you see a former NBA All-Star serving as the in-game emcee? (Thats former Suns forward Cedric Ceballos).

Denvers Gelt: I always associate this arena with the start of the new wave of NBA buildings. Its a great place for basketball.





9. Oklahoma City (Chesapeake Energy Arena)
Bring your earplugs if you go to a game in the Sooner State, the temporary home for the Hornets in 2005-06 and 2006-07.

Oklahoma City has the loudest fans in the NBA, period, Hall assessed. Their energy, enthusiasm and support give Thunder games a college atmosphere in a major league arena.

My ears rang in the Western Conference finals, Melton noted of the 2011 series between her Mavericks and the Thunder. They are so loud!

Triche listed OKCs venue second on his list, explaining that Some may view this as too high, but in my visits there, Ive found the support to be off the charts. The fans arrive early, they are extremely loud, and it provides the Thunder with a tremendous homecourt advantage.

The Thunders arena staff also has made a lasting impression on visiting teams.

Its the friendliest arena in the league, according to LaBumbard. You cant walk 10 yards without someone saying, Howdy, how yall doin? I love it!

Everyone is so polite! Melton agreed.






8. Orlando (Amway Center)
The Magic have played in this sparkling facility for only one season, but Amway has already made an unmistakable impression on visitors. Several panelists raved about how the building excels in so many different categories.

I was amazed the first time I walked into this building, from the size of the scoreboard to the amenities to the style, commented Preston, who ranked Amway Center No. 1 on his list. Bonus points for having the biggest, nicest visiting locker room in the league and its close proximity to the court.

The Amway Center is probably the most luxurious and state-of-the-art facility in the NBA, if not the entire country, added Hall, who was in Orlando for Wizards-Magic and John Walls regular season pro debut. I was lucky enough to be there on its opening night, and I can see why the Magic were so proud of what they had built.

Melton listed Amway Center as her fifth-favorite arena, though she did have one minor complaint: The only thing that bothered me was there is a serious wind tunnel from the loading dock to the visitor locker room. When I was helping (dole out) tickets before the game, I felt like I was in a heavy metal video as my hair blew around like crazy!








7. Boston (TD Garden)
As the building that replaced the old Boston Garden when it opened in 1995, it was simply impossible for this facility to match its predecessor in terms of ambience and mystique. The old-school Celtics enjoyed one of the most intimidating homecourt advantages in the NBA. Still, there is a historic aura about the 16-year-old facility, partly due to its tenant being the Celtics, who own the most titles in league annals.

Even though it is not the real Garden, you just feel the history when you walk into the bowl, Rinehart remarked. All of the basketball and hockey banners make it feel important, and the parquet floor is just classic. They also have great fans, who are loud but very knowledgeable.

One unusual aspect of TD Garden, which perhaps only visiting squads would even notice, is that guests must make a harrowing entrance to the building, navigating tight quarters for the team bus. Nearly everyone on the panel mentioned this peculiar challenge of visiting Beantown.

Boston is such a fun town but the thing that makes this arena so interesting to me is how the bus driver has to back up a huge ramp to get into the arena, Melton wrote. It is such a huge accomplishment. I am usually scared to death for the poor guy and he is usually trying to pull this off when it is below zero, with four inches of snow on the ground.

The bus driver has to reverse up an incredibly steep, narrow ramp about 50 yards into the arena, Rogers added. Needless to say, a few side mirrors have been knocked off.






6. Dallas (American Airlines Center)
Now home to the reigning NBA champions, if there were a title given out to the arena with the best postgame food for visiting teams, the AAC might be the hands-down winner. Four of our nine respondents specifically mentioned the delectable postgame barbecue meal in the locker room, which is supplied by the Mavericks.

Is it bad to include the postgame BBQ in the locker room as one of the best parts of the arena? Preston asked rhetorically.

It gets great reviews from the visiting team based on the food provided by Mark Cuban, Triche wrote. And the home locker room is the best in the NBA.

The popularity of this venue isnt only about tasty food and player perks, however. The in-game atmosphere also ranks among the best in the league.

Hall: The game operations in Dallas are probably the best in the league and a big part of the reason that the Mavericks have such great fan support throughout the game.

Its a state-of-the-art, first-class arena with good fans, amazing jumbotrons/video screens and very entertaining game ops, Rinehart commented. Its a fun atmosphere.








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