Hornets Insider: Favorite NBA Cities to Visit - Part 1

Hornets Insider: Favorite NBA Cities to Visit, Part 1
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
September 7, 2011

Matt Wright

In the most recent edition of Hornets Insider, we polled public-relations personnel from around the league to find out more about the NBA’s premier arenas. In a tight race, New York’s Madison Square Garden edged Indiana’s Conseco Fieldhouse as our panel’s favorite arena among the league’s 29 venues.

Now it’s time to check in again with our panel to get their opinions on some of their favorite NBA cities to visit. In one of the best perks of their jobs, team PR employees make multiple trips per regular season to 41 road games all over North America, an opportunity to see the continent in a very unique way.

Before we begin our list of NBA cities, here are the eight PR personnel folks who participated in the survey. Each person submitted a top-10 list of their favorite NBA cities to visit:

David Benner
Indiana Pacers
George Galante
Orlando Magic
Tim Gelt
Denver Nuggets
Scott Hall
Washington Wizards
Jim LaBumbard
Toronto Raptors
Rob Raichlen
Los Angeles Clippers
Jonathan Rinehart
Utah Jazz
Dennis Rogers
New Orleans Hornets

Using a points system of 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, I was able to rank the overall favorite NBA cities of the eight panelists who participated. We’ll get to the first half of the top 10 shortly, but let’s start with a few of the locations that just missed the cut. These cities are listed in order of how many points they received:


Partly due to its cold winter weather and exclusive status as the league’s lone “foreign” city to Americans, Toronto may not immediately spring to mind as an ideal destination, but it just missed the top-10 cut. To those who’ve visited frequently, Canada’s most populated city is an underrated location for a wide variety of reasons.

“It’s such a nice city,” Utah’s Rinehart commented. “I’m not sure many Americans are aware just what a cool city it is. It has sort of a European feel to it and is a very diverse city. It is also really clean, really safe and the people are very friendly.”

“Toronto is a huge city, but you won’t find many people who don’t like it,” Rogers wrote. “It is so cultural, and everyone is super nice, eh. You have shopping that rivals New York City, nightlife that rivals Miami and a skyline that rivals Chicago.”

With its “Mile High City” nickname and reputation for harsh weather during hoops season, Colorado’s capital is often stereotyped as overly cold and snow-ridden. But aficionados of the city believe that’s very misleading.

“Denver boasts over 300 sunny days a year,” Rogers noted. “That’s a little-known fact. The area where we stay is called Cherry Creek and has so much to do in four blocks. A great mall, good food and some decent nightlife, not to mention a jogging trail that is perfectly scenic.”

“I’ve always felt Denver was an underrated NBA stop,” Hall added. “I love the scenery of the mountains and the proximity of everything downtown.”

Historical and political attractions make our nation’s capital a popular destination – particularly if the schedule allows a visiting team at least a couple days to explore.

“We never have enough time there for anything that one would typically enjoy doing on a (longer) trip,” Galante commented. “A walk or run to the White House is always in order, no matter how short the visit. The Georgetown area is also nice for dinner.”

“Georgetown offers plenty,” echoed Benner, “but there isn’t much better than D.C. in the spring, touring the monuments and the museums. Been there, done that. Over and over. Never gets old.”

Raichlen: “A must-stop is Jim’s Steaks. I never leave Philly without making at least one cheesesteak trip to Jim’s, if not more.”

Benner: “Milwaukee probably won’t make anyone else’s top 10 list (Editor’s Note: He’s right – it didn’t), but sorry, I like beer. There are many great hole-in-the-wall bars with great ambience, great service and great people.”

Oklahoma City
Benner: “It has Bricktown (with a Sonic restaurant, which has cherry limeade), but also the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. If you go there at night, you will get chills, maybe a few tears. It’s very moving.”

Tennessee’s NBA city is perhaps best known for Beale Street, blues and barbeque, but Memphis also has a rich history, including the National Civil Rights Museum.

“It’s a must-see,” said Benner of the NCRM, which opened in 1991 at the site of the April 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. assassination. “The museum is located at the Lorraine Motel, a short walk from any downtown hotel. It gives you goose bumps.”

That convenience is a major reason why many NBA teams enjoy their visits to the Mid-South. “We stay downtown and there are plenty of places to go within walking distance,” wrote Rinehart, a native of Memphis. “It is definitely an old, gritty city, but has great food and a lot of character.”

No matter whether you’re an NBA team traveling to Arizona during the winter or spring, there’s a great reason to want to visit.

“This is a mandatory pool stop,” Rogers wrote of Phoenix’s warm temperatures. “If there is one thing to make sure you pack when you go there, it’s your swimsuit.”

If the timing is right, NBA teams also often take in nearby spring training games. Rogers: “Another great thing about Phoenix, besides all the restaurant choices around our hotel, is we’ve been going there in late March the last few years. That means a quick stop to Glendale or Scottsdale for some baseball, since the Phoenix area is home to many MLB teams.”

LaBumbard: “It may be cold outside but everything there is close to the downtown core of the city. Restaurants for every taste, plus a nice mall helps kill time on the road.”

Salt Lake City
Benner: “The usual suspects such as NYC, Chicago and L.A. will dominate this list (of favorite NBA road trips), but Salt Lake City is a very, very underrated locale. The setting is beautiful, it has one of the finest hotels in the league (Grand America), the people are friendly and the dining is tremendous.”

Rinehart: “A fun city with great food and plenty of places to hang out. Also, Turner is based here and we always seem to have Thursday off nights here, so I’ve been able to take (Jazz) players over to TNT studios and get to watch Ernie, Charles and Kenny work their magic.”

Now we move on to the list of cities that ranked in the top 10 overall. Here are the places that finished in the latter half of the top 10.


Spencer Spellman

10. San Antonio
The Riverwalk and an outstanding selection of culinary options – particular those of the Mexican variety – helped push the Spurs’ home into the elite.

“I always enjoy walking down by the Riverwalk, one of my favorite sites in the country,” wrote Gelt, whose Nuggets made additional trips to San Antonio in 2005 and 2007 for first-round playoff series. “Whenever we go there, I always get my fix of Mexican food, especially Taco Cabana, my all-time favorite Mexican restaurant.”

“It’s amazing that they could turn a small river into a neat tourist destination,” Toronto’s LaBumbard praised of the Riverwalk area. “I also like to go to Old San Antonio for a wonderful Mexican meal. Great food at great prices. It’s a city I’d love to see move into the Eastern Conference.”

“I think I eat Mexican for every single meal when I am in San Antonio,” Rogers said. “I can never get enough.”

Alex Shay

9. Miami
With its warm weather and reputation for nightlife, it’s probably surprising to see Miami ranked here. However, half of our eight-member panel did not list Miami in their top 10, dropping it down a few pegs.

A ninth-place finish certainly came as a surprise to Washington’s Hall, who predicted: “I have a feeling Miami might end up being the consensus number one choice on this list. The beach, great hotels, weather and food – it’s not hard to figure out why we all love taking whatever talents we might have to Miami during the season.”

For NBA teams based in cold-weather cities, many view Miami’s warm climate as an oasis during an interminable winter.

“The water (of Biscayne Bay) is so blue and the weather is so warm,” Denver’s Gelt noted. “Miami is a very welcome date on the schedule in December, January or February!”

Added the Clippers’ Raichlen, who ranked Miami No. 1 on his list: “Our hotel is right on the water, so it’s always a great view and relaxing environment. It’s always nice to visit Miami while we’re on one of our big 15-day East Coast trips we make during the winter each season.”

8. Dallas
The home city of the defending NBA champion Mavericks is one of the most convenient locations in the league for visiting teams, with a wealth of venues where one can eat and drink.
“I think it has more restaurants and bars per capita than any other city in the country,” wrote Rinehart, who attended college in Big D at SMU.

“There are tons of things to do around the area,” said Rogers, whose family members were original season-ticket holders for the expansion Mavericks in the early 1980s. “I love to go back to my old stomping grounds and eat some good Mexican food.”

“We stay at a great hotel there and at a great location,” noted Raichlen. “The hotel is close to the arena, which means quick bus rides. Pretty much right across the street are three of our favorite chain restaurants for a quick bite to eat – Pei Wei, Potbelly sandwiches and a pretty decent barbeque place located in a gas station...seriously.”

Alexey Sergeev

7. Boston
Like Washington, the history of Beantown makes it a memorable road trip, particularly due to the city’s older buildings that in some cases date back to the 18th century.

“The history of the city makes it a wonderful place to visit,” described Toronto’s LaBumbard, who’s there twice every season for Atlantic Division games between the Raptors and Celtics. “There are restaurants and bars that have been around since the late 1700s. Graveyards with creepy headstones and famous people buried there are dotted throughout downtown. The fun Bostonian accent and a Dunkin’ Donuts on every corner are an added plus.”

Massachusetts’ largest city also receives high marks for its food, highlighted by some of what comes out of the nearby Atlantic Ocean.

“From a dining standpoint, Boston has some of the best seafood in the country and the North End has some of the best Italian food anywhere as well,” wrote Utah’s Rinehart.

“I always go with our broadcasters to the Barking Crab restaurant to get some fresh lobster,” Rogers added. “I love how proud Bostonians are of their city. It’s a huge city, but it kinda has a smaller feel to it.”

6. Portland
Apparently, the home city of the Trail Blazers has a potent secret weapon in its allure to NBA workers – a well-stocked Nike store, which is located in nearby Beaverton, Ore.

“Anyone in the NBA (player or personnel) will tell you they love coming here for the Nike Employee store,” Rogers explained. “Just imagine a huge warehouse with all the latest Nike gear, and it’s all half off, not to mention it is on a gigantic, state-of-the-art, Nike campus. It is greatness.”

“We usually take a trip to the Nike Employee store, which is a good place to find some discounted gear,” agreed Raichlen.

Portland’s current status as the lone NBA city based in the Pacific Northwest is also a draw for several members of our panel, despite the often uncooperative weather.

“Portland is a beautiful city with a lot of life to it,” Utah’s Rinehart described. “It has a very cool vibe with a lot of locally owned shops and restaurants, not the gluttony of chains that you see in a lot of places.”

“It has a great downtown, amazing culture and the people just seem to have a different vibe to them,” Rogers concurred. “Yeah, it’s dreary and rainy, but the downtown area and everything else about this city makes up for the weather.”

Summarized the Wizards’ Hall: “I always love visiting the Pacific Northwest (and still miss going to Seattle). Portland is just such an interesting city in a beautiful setting with a great downtown.”

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