While putting good players on the floor is an important aspect of watching live basketball, there’s a lot more to the experience than just the game itself. Certain NBA buildings stand out because they make being a fan of a team more fun due to the atmosphere they help to create around the game. Today’s list of top five NBA arenas explores which organizations do the best job of that.
To assemble this list, the top-rated arenas were broken down in terms of design quality, how much history the building boasts, the amenities offered, the quality of the product on the court, the enthusiasm and support of the fans, and a wild card (which could cover any extra pros or cons of the arena).
Each category was given a score out of 10, and those points were then added up. The results are listed here in terms of total points.
With that said, here are the top five arenas in the NBA today:
#5 – Moda Center, Portland Trail Blazers (38/60)
From the outside, the building formerly known as the Rose Garden looks different from any other arena in the league, and it’s a look that definitely earns points in the “pros” column. Also, in the Moda Center the luxury suites are higher up than in many NBA buildings, which means more fans in actual seats closer to the action. That may have something to do with how loud this building can be when things are popping for Portland. Well, that and the “acoustical cloud,” a set of rotating acoustic panels dangling from the roof to amplify crowd noise.
Originally called the “Rose Garden” after Portland’s nickname (The Rose City), this building opened in 1995 and has never hosted an NBA Finals. In 1999 and 2000, it did host the Western Conference Finals, but that’s about as historic as this building gets.
There are a number of exceptional restaurants at the Moda Center, including a sports bar, barbecue grille and many more. Plus, it’s easily accessible via public transportation, which the locals appreciate since the building isn’t located downtown and the Blazers are the only “big four” sports franchise that exists in the area.
Things have been better the last couple of seasons, with back-to-back 50 win seasons and a thrilling first-round series win back in 2014 that provided fans with what may ultimately prove to be the biggest shot of Damian Lillard’s career. Losing LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez won’t help the on-court product, but Lillard is a star and will give plans plenty to cheer for even if the team takes a step back this season.
Portland only has one professional team among the four major sports, which means fans are very, very devoted to their beloved Blazers. It shows at games, which consistently sell out, as Blazers fans are among the loudest in the league.
Wild Card: 4
Easily one of the coolest-looking arenas from the exterior, the building formerly known as the Rose Garden loses points for finally submitting to the trend of allowing corporate sponsors to rename a building. The Rose Garden had a much better ring to it.
#4 – Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, Indiana Pacers (39/60)
There isn’t an arena in the league that feels more like a raucous high school gymnasium than this one, so the Fieldhouse scores well here for its modern take on a decidedly throwback vibe.
Built in 1999, the then-Conseco Fieldhouse immediately played home to an NBA Finals for the Pacers, though they’ve never been back. The building definitely feels retro, and team did make back-to-back Eastern Conference Championship series back in 2013 and 2014, but not a whole lot of major NBA history has happened there just yet.
Located in downtown Indianapolis, the building is accessible, with a great atrium and plenty of excellent restaurants located throughout the arena. There’s even a Dunkin Donuts attached to the team shop.
The Pacers had a down year a season ago, but will have Paul George back healthy and did enough in free agency to keep the fans optimistic.
Indy fans don’t always fill the stands (they were 22nd in the league in per-game attendance last season), but when they do sell out, the Fieldhouse is one of the loudest arenas in the league. Watching a playoff game there is what it must have felt like to watch the big games in “Hoosiers,” just on a much bigger scale.
Wild Card: 6
The Pacers’ practice facility is visible from the street, which means fans can have a free look at their favorite players anytime they’re doing their run-throughs in town.
#3 – United Center, Chicago Bulls (41/60)
The United Center isn’t a pretty building; constructed in the mid-‘90s, it was put together at a time when teams wanted to make bigger arenas, but weren’t yet sure how to do so in a way that still felt intimate and connected to the fans. It’s a lively place, but cavernous and not particularly attractive.
It’s the house that Michael Jordan built, and even visiting players can get caught up in that fact when visiting the UC. It’s not an exceptionally old building, yet the structure still feels rather hallowed. The Bulls won three championships in this building, and fans crowd around the entrance hours before the game to take pictures with the bronze Jordan statue.
Food offerings here aren’t great, and the building itself is isolated on the West Side of town, quite a ways away from downtown Chicago, and with no elevated train stop close enough to the building to be considered convenient.
No matter who is on the court, the Bulls play hard, and Chicago fans appreciate that. With Derrick Rose healthy and Jimmy Butler now officially an All-Star, the Bulls are plenty fun to watch and certainly capable of going deep into the postseason.
The Bulls have led the league in attendance for six seasons in a row, and haven’t dropped out of the top two since the 2003-04 season (they were No. 3 that year). The new Madhouse on Madison packs in more fans than any other arena in the league, so not surprisingly that beast of a building can get extremely loud, even when the games don’t matter. When they do matter, it’s deafening in there.
Wild Card: 7
Watching Chicago’s starting lineup laser-light show is one of the highlights of the live experience at the United Center. If you aren’t there in time to hear that famous Alan Parsons Project song ring out, you’re missing half the fun of seeing the Bulls play in person.
#2 – Staples Center, L.A. Lakers/Clippers (45/60)
The building looks like something that dropped in from outer space (but in a good way), and that futuristic look combined with the spotlights that climb into the L.A. sky at night gives the Staples Center an undeniably Hollywood vibe. Outside, the Star Plaza and all of its bronze statues is definitely something visitors enjoy, as well.
Despite the fact that the arena only opened in 1999, it has already hosted seven NBA Finals and two NBA All-Star games. Five Lakers teams have won championships in Staples Center already, which has meant a lot of history in a very short period of time. (The Clippers are still working on chipping in a little bit more there).
The scoreboard here is excellent, as it includes screens that even people sitting courtside can see. Also, the Staples Center is right in the thick of things in L.A., which means easy access to hotels and great restaurants. The light-rail takes fans right to the arena’s front door, which is another plus.
No one can boast better basketball than the Staples Center, which is filled with professional basketball teams and fans twice as often as any other organization in the league. Kobe Bryant is one of the NBA’s most popular stars (even if the Lakers are bad now), and the Clippers are one of most exciting groups to watch in basketball. Whichever team you choose to see here, the product will at least be respectable.
Let’s put it this way—the fans get better the higher up in the arena you get. The lower level, particularly at Lakers games, is for people hoping to be seen at a Lakers game. The higher levels are more for serious fans—and L.A. has more of them than any other team in the NBA—so the building certainly isn’t a quiet one, though still not among the league’s loudest.
Wild Card: 7
Celebrities, everywhere you look. Not only do you get to watch a show on the court, but you also get to rub elbows with Jack Nicholson, Billy Crystal and whatever other A-List celebrity may be taking in the game that night.
#1 – Madison Square Garden, New York Knicks (46/60)
Controversially built over a train station in the late ‘60s, MSG is one of the oldest and most iconic arenas in the NBA. The suspended ceiling is probably the most memorable architectural feature of the building, but it’s a huge part of what makes it so memorable visually.
Immeasurably awesome, and not just from a basketball standpoint. Built in 1968, it’s currently the oldest active major sporting facility in New York, and it’s played host to five NBA Finals (two of which the Knicks won), an NBA All-Star game, three WNBA All-Star games, two NHL All-Star Games, and three Stanley Cup Finals. Outside of the major sports, it also hosted the first ever Wrestlemania, the first Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali fight, and memorable concerts by The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Elvis Presley among countless others.
Admittedly, MSG is a little outdated in terms of its seating and concourse areas. The lower bowl was recently redone to fit more people, but the upper decks in particular aren’t that pretty. Also, it’s nowhere near as technologically advanced as some of the other arenas mentioned, but that’s part of the Garden’s ambiance.
The Knicks were horrible last season but aren’t that far removed from being a pretty good basketball team. Carmelo Anthony is always worth the price of admission, and the team has added some interesting young players in the draft his year, as well. It might be a year that fans love to hate, but there certainly are worse teams in the Eastern Conference.
Knicks fans are ruthless, which is why this is one of the toughest places to play in the entire league. If things are going well, Knicks fans will cheer their heads off, but they love to boo just as much. More often than not, that booing is directed at the opponents, but the occasional Knickerbocker has felt that wrath as well. No question, this group of fanatics know how to get into the game.
Wild Card: 7
MSG is right in the middle of Manhattan, where there is plenty to see and do. There aren’t many more exciting places to be in the entire country. Plus, Spike Lee knows how to add a little extra level of entertainment to an NBA game.
TD Bank Garden, Boston Celtics (36/60)
Obviously, Boston’s trademark parquet floor is what separates it from the other arenas in the league, but the fact that the arena sits right on the Charles River and adjacent to the gorgeous Zakim Bridge is good for exterior aesthetics as well.
If this were the original Boston Garden, the relevant NBA history would be unparalleled by any other arena, including Madison Square Garden, but this iteration of the building was opened just about 20 years ago. That said, all the retired numbers and championship banners in the rafters recreate a sense of history that, along with the parquet floor, has transferred well to the new building. And the ’08 team did win a Larry O’Brien trophy there.
Nothing really stands out here. There are restaurants and restrooms and gift shops like any other arena, but people don’t rave over anything in particular at the TD Garden as far as those types of things are concerned.
It’s been kind of rough since the 2008 championship, but things are finally starting to turn around thanks to a promising young coach and a promising young core that should grow up nicely together in the coming years.
As prices have risen in the new building, many of the old die-hards have been priced out of sharing their fanaticism like they did at the old Garden, but Boston still is one of the top 10 in the league in attendance every year, and the crowds there are generally very good.
Wild Card: 5
The Sports Museum features tons of awesome memorabilia from Boston sports history, making it arguably the coolest in-arena museum in the league.
Amway Center, Orlando Magic (33/60)
Since this is one of the newest arenas in the league, everything in it is state of the art, including a perfect interior with great sightlines no matter where you’re sitting. Outside, the glass atrium makes the building look pleasing from the street, though the other three sides of the structure are pretty nondescript.
There really isn’t any, since the building was brand new just a few of seasons ago.
The restaurants are diverse, including a bar in the O-Zone with a view of the court. Also, there is a great area for kids to play, which adds a bit to the experience for younger fans. It’s a huge building—some would say too big—but it’s got everything a fan could ever want or need, and since it’s new everything is still in great shape.
Orlando is still a few years away from contending, but their rebuilding efforts are slowly but surely coming along.
Nothing against Magic fans, but they’re not generally featured on lists of the most intense fans in the NBA, and people who frequent Magic games often complain that all the extra stuff to do on the concourses keeps fans from actually getting to their seats and cheering for the team. That can be a downer for the overall atmosphere, even if it makes for a more engaging overall entertainment experience.
Wild Card: 6
The Magic call it the most technologically-advanced arena in the league, and it’s kind of hard to disagree with that. It features 1,100 high-def screens throughout the building and one of the most complex and complete scoreboards in the NBA. Fans in certain areas can order concessions via touchscreen, and menus at concession stands are also displayed on video screens, which makes menu customization easier.
Other Notables: American Airlines Center (Dallas), American Airlines Arena (Miami), Pepsi Center (Denver), AT&T Center (San Antonio), Barclays Center (Brooklyn), Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City).
Are there other arenas worthy of this list? Are there some mentioned here for which your experience didn’t match all this praise? Add in your two cents in the comments section below.
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