The five basketball venues of the NBA’s Southwest Division vary greatly in terms of characteristics and capacity – at 19,600 seats, Dallas boasts the third-largest arena in the Western Conference, while New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center is the NBA’s smallest at 16,867. Perhaps the most common trait of the handful of Southwest buildings is age, with each opening over a five-year period between 1999-2004, with the first three seasons of that span covering a stretch when New Orleans did not even have an NBA franchise.
As it turns out, the ’04-05 season debut of Memphis’ FedEx Forum coincided with the creation of the Southwest Division, a group that has maintained the same five-franchise alignment ever since. A decade and a half later, the division’s youngest arena may be its most popular, at least according to our quintet of panelists. As always, the panel includes TV broadcaster Mark Followill (Dallas), radio broadcaster/PA announcer Matt Thomas (Houston), writer Michael Wallace (Memphis), writer Jim Eichenhofer (New Orleans) and writer Michael C. Wright (NBA.com, covering San Antonio for this reoccurring feature).
What’s your favorite road arena to visit in the Southwest Division and why?
FedEx Forum in Memphis. It is a nice arena with great people who work there. We have a good broadcast location. I think when the Grizzlies are on top of their game, then the crowd is good there as well. Plus a trip to Memphis means a trip to Rendezvous BBQ!
Some of the broadcast booths around the NBA present a visual challenge for radio play-by-play announcers. So with that said, I would say the FedEx Forum in Memphis. Our hotel is extraordinary close to the arena. There are great places to eat. Live music the night before the game is also a must. As for the crowd, San Antonio is always rockin as soon as opening tipoff.
Grind City Media
The Toyota Center has always been one of the most convenient and comfortable setups in the league. Naturally, it rises to the top of the division for me when it comes to this distinction. It’s only a couple of blocks from the usual team and/or media hotels on the way to the game. And on the way back afterward, there’s always a nice choice of restaurants and bars open to catch a nightcap. But it’s also the experience inside the arena that stands out. It was one of the first setups in the league where I noticed how cool it was to have a practice facility attached to the arena. It also set the arena industry standard when it came to massive, high-def video board displays. The seating locations for broadcasters and media are solid, and access points for pregame and postgame media availabilities are quick and easy to find.
FedEx Forum is one of the nicest venues in the league. Among Southwest Division arenas, it feels the most like the fans are right on top of the action. Now, it’s possible I’m saying that because the Grizzlies provide the most comfy media seating in the division, with a second-row courtside seat that allows you to hear everything, such as players, coaches (and agitated Grizzlies fans) bantering at the referees. I’m generally happy just to be in the building, but that vantage point allows me to deliver anecdotes and flavor that would be impossible from a different seat (by the way, kudos to Dallas, Oklahoma City and Phoenix for similar media seating). I also give bonus points to Memphis for having perhaps the most creative in-game music in the NBA. Instead of the clichéd stuff you might hear elsewhere, the Grizzlies’ DJ will toss in outside-the-box clips from hard rock, even dipping into bands like Russell Westbrook’s favorite heavy metal ensemble, Slayer.
Michael C. Wright
There’s something special about arenas that pay homage to their respective cities. Most do it. Some, like New Orleans, San Antonio and Houston obviously do it better than others. But the energy as a game starts at FedExForum in Memphis is just bananas. From the mascot, Grizz, to the dancers and the music, if you’re a Memphis fan, you’re going to be super hype when that team takes the court because of how that organization does in-game presentation. Just like when I’m in New Orleans, I find myself bobbing my head quite a bit in Memphis. I just love that atmosphere. Ever since the old grit and grind era in Memphis, they’ve kept that place rocking. You’ve got Beale Street right outside, too, so the walk to and from the arena is always great.