MEMPHIS – Should the NBA season resume next month in Orlando as proposed, all 22 teams involved in the league’s restart would share at least one thing in common.
The discomforts of being away from home.
In prioritizing health and safety protocols to combat Coronavirus concerns, all eight proposed regular-season “seeding games” and each round of the playoffs through the NBA Finals would be played at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando.
So if games proceed as planned starting in late July, the Lakers won’t have rows of courtside celebrities at Staples Center in Los Angeles to distract opponents. The defending NBA champion Raptors can’t rely on Drake to troll the refs or a foe’s top players at Scotiabank Arena. The Nuggets will be unable to run teams through the suffocating thin air of the Pepsi Center in the Mile High City. And the Celtics won’t have 17 championship banners and countless legendary retired jerseys lurking from the TD Garden rafters in one of the NBA’s most intimidating environments.
Locally, the Grizzlies won’t be able to unleash the energy of nearly 19,000 rally towels and the pulsating ‘Whoop That Trick’ anthem upside a team’s head when it gets heated in the clutch.
Potentially pipe in all of the artificial crowd noise you want. But nothing can replace the unique spirit, spark and spunk that make true homecourt advantage in the NBA one of the most awesome experiences in professional sports. Although that element will be missing amid the NBA’s intended relaunch, it’s hardly forgotten among insiders who know the league best.
Our Southwest Roundtable series continues with a look at what we’ll miss most about some of our favorite arena experiences as the NBA pushes forward. We list specifically our top venues within the Southwest division and also an overall best in the NBA.
Joining me on our panel of Southwest Division insiders are TV broadcaster Mark Followill (Dallas), radio broadcaster/PA announcer Matt Thomas (Houston), writer Jim Eichenhofer (New Orleans) and writer Michael C. Wright (NBA.com, covering San Antonio for this reoccurring feature).
This week’s topic: What’s your favorite Southwest Division arena, and your favorite arena overall?
Grind City Media
In SW Division: FedExForum, of course! But since we’re tasked with excluding our own market team, I’d go with the Toyota Center. It’s only a couple of blocks from the usual team and/or media hotels on the way to the game. On the way back, 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. It also set the arena standard when it came to massive, high-def video display boards. The seating locations for broadcasters and media are solid, and access points for pregame and postgame media are quick and easy to find.
NBA Overall: Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The location, sightlines, nostalgia, colors, cozy feel inside and on and on and on. That place was made for basketball and only basketball. There’s not a bad or obstructed seat in the entire house. And I’ve walked around the arena enough to see every vantage point over the years. There’s always a clean and pristine vibe to the place. And it gets absolutely nuts there when the Pacers are rolling. The media relations team under longtime exec David Benner makes sure your every media need is met. And there’s always a festive environment just outside the doors once the game ends and the action spills out into downtown Indy. For 20-year-old arenas, it remains a crown jewel.
In SW Division: FedExForum. It is a nice arena with great people who work there. We have a good broadcast location. 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!
NBA Overall: Madison Square Garden. It is the Mecca of basketball and the World’s Most Famous Arena. You truly feel like you are on a stage performing when you are there, and that even includes broadcasters. So you can imagine what the players must feel like. The energy of the building, the energy of the city, the organ music, all of it combines to make for an exhilarating experience every time. Dirk Nowitzki always said it was his favorite arena to play and I suspect a lot of players feel that way. I certainly know one broadcaster who views that place as his favorite NBA arena to work!
In SW Division: FedExForum. Some of the broadcast booths around the NBA present a visual challenge for radio play-by-play announcers. With that said, I would say FedExForum. 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.
NBA Overall: Scotiabank Arena. Radio play-by-play guys don’t get to sit courtside as often as we’d like. So I give bonus points to those cities that allow us to have a great broadcast position. Favorable mentions go to Chicago, Detroit and Phoenix. But Toronto’s Scotiabank Center is my favorite road arena. Toronto is a wonderful city with really nice people. I’ve only called four games there (all courtside) but I feel like all of them could have been NBA Finals previews. The crowd is all in their seats by tip and are incredibly intense throughout the game. I believe any NBA game and thus my broadcast can be ramped up with a crowd ready to cheer and boo as soon as the ball is thrown in the air.
In SW Division: FedExForum. 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. 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’ will toss in outside-the-box clips from hard rock, even dipping into bands like heavy metal’s Slayer.
NBA Overall: Moda Center. It’s a five-hour flight from Louisiana, but I’ve always enjoyed going to Portland for a variety of reasons. Atmosphere-wise, it feels very old school, with fans who are consistently into the actual basketball game and tend to arrive early. The whole setup just feels cozier than most places, with an arena staff extremely friendly and helpful. Among the newer venues, Amway Center still feels like it just opened, even though its first season was 2010-11. Detroit, Milwaukee and Sacramento also boast gorgeous new arenas, but we must dock the Bucks points for putting their media seating in a distant location, prompting me to want to sharpen my contact lenses upon returning home.
Michael C. Wright
In SW Division: FedExForum. There’s something special about arenas that pay homage to their respective cities. 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. 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.
NBA Overall: The Staples Center. And the only reason for me is the vastly different atmospheres in the same arena for Lakers and Clippers games. On one trip in LA, I covered a Clippers game earlier in the day, and as I was finishing up my work, they were transforming the arena for a Lakers game later that night. With the Clippers, you’ve got a more fun, raucous environment. Then, when the Lakers hit the floor, they turn down the lights, the celebrities mill about and the experience is more subdued and “classic.” I also remember recording a podcast between those Clippers and Lakers games. In walks JJ Redick, then a Clipper. He snatches the mic and highjacks the podcast while we all laugh. Fun times.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.