Hornets Insider: Favorite NBA Arenas, Part 2
By: Jim Eichenhofer,, @Jim_Eichenhofer
August 11, 2011

In the previous edition of Hornets Insider, we counted down the sixth- through 10th- most popular NBA arenas, as determined by the voting of our panel. Now its time to list the top five. 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 top 5 shortly, but first lets start with a few more of the NBA venues that just missed the cut:


Golden State (Oracle Arena)
Aside from their improbable 2007 postseason run as a No. 8 seed, the Warriors have often struggled on the court in recent years, but their backing from fans hasnt wavered. Oracle receives high marks for its raucous atmosphere, partly due to frequently vocal audiences.

Their fan base always impresses me, Rogers wrote. No matter the win-loss record, they have great fan support in the arena. Their fans engage and really get into the game. Romer: They are the best through thick and thin fans in the NBA.

This place was deafening during the 2007 playoffs, Rinehart commented of that years Jazz-Warriors Western Conference semifinal series.

Memphis (FedEx Forum)
Opened in 2004, the Grizzlies home is located mere steps from world-famous Beale Street. The venue is also recognized as one of the leagues most attractive buildings.

The arena itself is one of the nicest in the NBA, Rinehart wrote. The concourses are nice, it is in a cool location (just off Beale Street), the suites are down very, very low, and there is generally a band playing pregame and during timeouts. Not just a generic arena, it definitely has a Memphis feel to it.

This arena is so close to the hotel you can walk to the arena, Melton commented. The (visiting) locker room is great, as is the press room.

Detroit (Palace of Auburn Hills)
Triche: The Palace started the new wave of facilities in the 1990s and it remains a quality building. While the visiting team locker room leaves a lot to be desired, the arena remains state-of-the-art.

Philadelphia (Wells Fargo Center)
LaBumbard: The best trash-talking fans in the NBA. No one heckles quite like a Philly fan. One time in the playoffs, our team got heckled coming off the bus by five kids who were about 12 years old!

San Antonio (AT&T Center)
Romer: Some of the friendliest fans Ive ever met. They act like theyve been there before, which they have a few times. I like walking outside on the patio area to get some pregame fresh air.

Washington (Verizon Center)
Gelt: Its another of the arenas located right downtown, which really adds to the energy of the building. To me the idea of a basketball arena a few blocks away from the White House, Lincoln Memorial and other D.C. gems is just a really cool thing.


5. Portland (Rose Garden)
The Trail Blazers home is universally beloved, with every member of the panel listing it among their top 10 (not counting Romer, who by rule wasnt allowed to do so). Nearly everyone mentioned the atmosphere in the Rose Garden, which has consistently been one of the leagues best, especially during repeated recent postseason trips.

From before tip to the final buzzer, the place is packed, the fans are on top of you and it is LOUD, noted Rogers, who listed Portland as his No. 1 arena. I love the atmosphere in Portland. Its the loudest building in the NBA in my opinion.

Portland has some of the most knowledgeable and passionate fans in the NBA, and they make for a great atmosphere in a beautiful building, Hall wrote. Theyre always in their seats and ready to go before tip-off and keep it up throughout the game.

I have never been yelled at by more fans than in the first round of the playoffs this past season, Melton said of Mavericks-Blazers in the 11 West postseason. The fans have so much to cheer about and they let you know it.

Several panelists mentioned the proximity of the Rose Garden crowd to the court, creating an intimidating presence for visiting teams.

LaBumbard: The fans are right on top of you. When the Blazers are on a roll, the place literally rocks.

Preston added that there is one unique aspect of the building he appreciates: They have an LED board that tracks how many tickets theyve donated to the community, which I think is a nice touch.

4. Los Angeles (Staples Center)
This facility boasts an enviable combination of celebrity sightings in the stands and winning Lakers basketball on the court. The Lakers christened Staples Center during the 1999-2000 season by winning the NBA championship in their first campaign at the venue. They went on to post more titles in 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010, while also reaching the NBA Finals in 2004 and 2008.

The vast majority of the panel mentioned the star-studded atmosphere in the City of Angels, which is second to none in the league. No matter what day of the week or portion of the regular season a game is played in Los Angeles, it resembles the ambience of a blockbuster movie premier.

It is always a big-game feel when you play the Lakers, especially in L.A., commented Utahs Rinehart. The lights, the celebrities, and the pregame introductions when they drop that giant white curtain down all give it that Hollywood feel. I just love the lighting there the crowd is dark and the court just glows, putting the spotlight on the game. They dont have a mascot or a lot of hokey sponsored contests during timeouts. Just the game and the Laker Girls, thats it. And obviously it is always sold out."

Although the theater-style lighting in Staples Center is intended to keep the focus on the game action, several PR people say that sometimes becomes impossible.

I will admit, it is very hard to pay attention to the action on the court in L.A., Rogers noted. With the Laker Girls and the countless celebrities in attendance, distractions are aplenty. It is the definition of a place to be seen.

Hall: The basketball is usually secondary to whats going on in the crowd at any given moment (which is saying something considering the Lakers incredible winning history).

Melton: The people-watching alone makes this arena the best. I also love the contrast of fans from Clippers to Lakers games.

3. Chicago (United Center)
There havent been as many memorable NBA games in the Windy City in the 2000s as there were in the 1990s, but the Bulls home venue has still managed to retain much of its previous allure. The Madhouse on Madison still reminds me of the Jordan years, Triche wrote. Every time I walk courtside, I can imagine MJ doing his thing.

This place packs 20,000-plus fans and it gets rocking, Rogers commented. I could only imagine what it would have been like in the 1990s. If its a close game in the fourth quarter, there is no chance you will be able to hear yourself.

One of the Bulls noteworthy traditions dramatic starting-lineup introductions, which were an iconic scene during the Jordan Era remains popular among visiting teams.

I have to say, their intro never gets old, Preston said of the pregame scene at Bulls games. I also like the montage videos they put together of the city and the teams history. Theyre very well done. Despite being one of the NBAs largest structures, several panelists said that United Center has maintained the feel of a much smaller venue.

Its amazing that an arena that seats almost 21,000 people can feel intimate, but the United Center pulls it off somehow, Hall complimented. When the fans are up and into the game, you can feel how many people are in the building, though.

The best sports town in the country deserves one of the biggest arenas in the league, Romer summarized. They have great fans, good game operations and its easy to get around the arena. Visiting United Center is a classy experience.

2. Indiana (Conseco Fieldhouse)
Surprised to see the Pacers home ranked so high on the list? Although Conseco hasnt been around long in comparison to some arenas it opened in 1999 it more than makes up for it in its nostalgic feel and design. Consecos architects received a mountain of praise from our panelists, who raved about the cohesive plan that appeared to be in place when blueprints for the building were created.

Conseco transports you back in time with nostalgic concourses, classic out-of-town scoreboards and signage, and old-style clocks, wrote Utahs Rinehart, describing a vivid Conseco scene. The ticket lobby/entrance is great, and there is always a brass band playing there before the game, just to add to that classic feel. Its just a great place for basketball that embraces history.

It is visually one of the most intriguing venues in sports, LaBumbard credited. The creativity in presenting an old-school feel is wonderful.

A few panel members took note of a large display in Indiana that acknowledges the rampant popularity and rich history of basketball in the Hoosier State. Triche likens Conseco to a hoops museum that could attract visitors without even hosting a game.

You get a complete understanding of the history of basketball in that state, Triche wrote. With photos and memorabilia depicting the states top programs, you could spend an entire game walking around Conseco, familiarizing yourself on the historical topics, and forget why you are there.

Preston: It recreates the vision of Midwest basketball every time you walk into the building. Each element is carefully detailed to replicate a nostalgic feel. One of the best parts of the arena is in the grand lobby near the ticket counter, where they have an old-fashioned train station schedule board that has dates/schedule/information.

Being an Eastern Conference arena, I only go there once a season, said Denvers Gelt, but its always been a favorite of mine. Its got a great retro feel to it and takes you back in time.

1. New York (Madison Square Garden)
With three first-place votes out of our nine respondents, the Worlds Most Famous Arena netted a total of 67 points from the panel, outdistancing Conseco Fieldhouse by a six-point margin. Madison Square Garden and the Rose Garden were the only arenas mentioned in the top 10 of every ballot.

Opened in 1968, MSG is officially the second-oldest venue in the league (Golden States Oracle Arena debuted in 1966). Now in its sixth decade of operation, the Knicks home cant compete with brand-new buildings in flashiness or bells and whistles, but is unparalleled in terms of its history and ambience.

The arena itself is far from nice ugly teal seats, cramped locker room, the freight elevator that the visiting team must take to get to the arena level, Rinehart commented. You just know there are rats the size of Manhattan running around that place. But it just feels special playing a game at MSG. The organ, the coliseum in-the-round, the history and the Big Apple feel make this a great place for a game.

Hall, who ranked MSG tops on his list: The visiting locker rooms and backstage areas are sparse at best, but theres no beating the atmosphere inside the Garden. No other arena in the league today has the combination of history, crowd energy and big-event feel that you get at every Knicks game.

Like in Los Angeles, frequent celebrity sightings also make trips to New York a unique experience.

Theres a reason why its called the worlds most famous arena, noted Triche, whos had a few of his own meetings with celebs at Hawks-Knicks matchups. The atmosphere, the intimacy and the history play a huge role in that. The fans are knowledgeable and they certainly bring a lot of energy in their support of the Knicks. And you can always appreciate the celebrities in attendance. I always enjoy my conversations with Spike Lee.

MSG is undergoing several major renovations this summer that are intended to modernize the facility, but the vast majority of our panel said a relative lack of contemporary glitz didnt affect their opinion whatsoever.

History, history and more history, Gelt wrote. Is it the nicest arena? Definitely not, but it has more character than any in the league.

The history of Madison Square Garden alone colors the experience in a way that no other NBA arena can match, Romer concluded. Its the best.


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