Southwest Division roundtable: Favorite division road trip
Warm weather. Rich history. Long-standing rivalries among the three teams that comprise the “Texas Triangle,” as well as a potential budding rivalry between two newer, small-market franchises in Tennessee and Louisiana.
Perhaps the NBA’s most competitive five-team grouping over the past decade on the court, the Southwest Division also features a handful of U.S. destination cities. The five spots are so well-known for something specific that the average American probably knows exactly what you’re talking about when you only use the nicknames: Big D, Space City, Bluff City, Big Easy and Alamo City.
In Part 2 of our Southwest Division roundtable during the ongoing 2020 basketball hiatus (read Part 1 here on best Southwest interviewees and users of social media), Pelicans.com checked in with panelists for their thoughts on traveling within the division. Our 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).
Based on the city, what’s your favorite Southwest Division road trip?
Mark FollowillMavericks TV
Definitely, New Orleans. I have loved the culture and the vibe of New Orleans since my first vacation there just out of college in 1993. The excitement of going there these days includes the amazing food in the city. If there is an off day maybe there’s time for an excursion to the WWII Museum or a run over the Magazine Street/Garden District area or just a walk to a unique restaurant in a neighborhood like the Marigny, or do like everyone and go to a bar on Bourbon Street. There’s always something fun and memorable to do in New Orleans and some damn good food to eat!
Matt ThomasRockets Radio
This is a very difficult question to answer. I am a fan of every city in the Western Conference and trying to determine a favorite in the Southwest Division is a challenge. Memphis and New Orleans have great food and music. I have family in both Dallas and San Antonio so it’s great to catch up with them while on the job. The best arena atmosphere in the division outside of Houston resides in the Alamo City. You could be playing a mid-January game in San Antonio and you swear you’re playing for the Western Conference title. The Rockets and Spurs have a deep history with each other with many of both teams’ most memorable playoff victories coming at the opponents’ home floor.
Michael WallaceGrind City Media
The easy answer is New Orleans. From food to fun to diversity to music to culture (and maybe even a taste of trouble, if one’s not careful), there are no limits to options the Crescent City provides on any and every night of the week. So this one is a given. With that said, the real intrigue is trying to determine which trip qualifies for the Silver medal in the division among the three others outside my home market in Memphis. For as much as I want to go with San Antonio, because my favorite BBQ joint and bookstore are there, I have to say Dallas has gradually become my favorite spot outside of New Orleans. There’s always something new and cool either opening or happening downtown each time the Grizzlies stop in the Big D.
Memphis has pretty much everything I look for in a road city. The team hotel is steps from Beale Street and FedEx Forum; there are several phenomenal barbecue spots within walking distance. I’m sure this is partly due to Memphis being a smaller city with no other Big Four pro sports franchise, but the Grizzlies also just seem like a major part of the fabric of people’s daily lives. That’s something you don’t really sense in most huge cities.
Despite what the Hall of Famers in TNT’s studio may say, I enjoy San Antonio and staying near the Riverwalk, where there are many places to eat outside in nice weather. As the division’s only city that has an NHL franchise, it’s always been fun to hit Dallas Stars games when they’re in town. Houston’s biggest drawback is how spread out it is geographically, but I’m a fan of their new-ish lobster roll restaurants (Mainely Sandwiches), which improbably are owned and operated by Maine natives.
Michael C. WrightNBA.com
Is this a setup? I’d be shocked if New Orleans wasn’t everyone’s favorite road trip in the division outside of the folks already living there, obviously. The food, the culture, and the people make that city No. 1 hands down. I covered the NFL for 10 years before switching over to the NBA, and my favorite road trip covering football was New Orleans, too. For me, personally, coming to New Orleans feels like coming home because you can have a conversation with a native, who is a stranger, yet walk away feeling like you’ve known that person for years. I love the genuine nature of the people out there.
When Zion Williamson was set to finally make his NBA debut in January, I remember the buzz flowing through the city pretty much everywhere you went. On the Uber from the airport, all the driver wanted to talk about was Zion. When I checked into the hotel downtown, the woman behind the desk was just so overjoyed she’d be going to the game later that night and was hoping her son could get an autograph from Zion. Man, that joy and enthusiasm all over that city was special to me that night. And Zion certainly delivered with his performance. It’s really one of my fondest recent NBA memories.