9 Best NBA Arenas to Watch a Playoff Game
This is/was a more difficult to assemble than those for baseball, football or even hockey. Though crowd plays a big role in the performance of a home team, NBA action is largely bird’s-eye. So on TV, the casual observer, or even the astute one, won’t really distinguish one from the other. Even fan noise is lost in translation. So it’s tricky to pretend to know the environment of every arena first hand, though I have seen each of these dozens, if not hundreds of times on television.
But I have seem, firsthand, the worst arena in pro ball. That would be the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, which resembles more a college football stadium than a pro arena. But since the Bucks aren’t ever in the playoffs, it’s all moot. Milwaukee, I love your city with all my heart anyway, just for Summerfest.
Let’s get on with the list.
9. TD Garden – Boston
I have noticed that Boston fans get their feelings really hurt if I don’t sing their praises on every list I make, so let’s give the baby their bottle and get TD Garden out of the way. It is clearly the most hallowed hall in sports, where the warrior-poet Celtics go out to do battle against all that is dark and evil in the world. Rajon Rondo is the greatest man in the history of the world. Abraham Lincoln, Plato, Jesus Christ, and Mohammed are tied for a distant second…
While Boston fans are a giant pain in pretty much everyone’s ass, TD Garden by all accounts looks like a great place to watch a game. They’ve done a good job in the updating the digs for the 21st century while maintaining the history that the old Garden held. Now if they could only do the same thing with that piece of crap Fenway.
8. Staples Center – LA Lakers
I will be the first one to admit that LA has some truly terrible sports fans. There are some good ones, but most are fair-weather and none too knowledgeable. And Lakers fans specifically fit that description. But for the sake of spectacle, there are few places more star-studded and electric than Staples Center in the playoffs. Celebs are out, and the arena is a destination for the who’s who of Tinseltown. Does that make it a great fan base? Of course not. But it’s a cool thing to see, regardless.
7. Madison Square Garden – New York
It’s been a mad minute since NYC really had a playoff vibe going on, but this dinosaur arena has in tradition and hype what it doesn’t have in creature comforts. It’s also got Spike Lee, which I don’t see as a great asset, but those mental images of Spike vs. Reggie Miller in the Eastern Conference Finals are some of the most iconic in NBA playoff history.
6. Oracle Arena – Golden State
Their run that started against the Mavericks a few years back introduced the world to the unbridled enthusiasm that is contained in Oakland’s Oracle Arena. They weren’t the best team in the playoffs (they might have been the worst), but no arena was louder, and all of a sudden, a Golden State home game was something to dread. They are hardly a juggernaut, but the Warriors, when they appear, have the weight of a very heavy fan base behind them.
5. Quicken Loans Arena – Cleveland
Let’s have a moment of silence for the playoff atmosphere at the Q, cause we may not see it again in our lifetime. The breath has been knocked out of the city of Cleveland in one fell swoop, and who knows when it will return? However, Cleveland showed that they can get behind their team. The Q gave people a reason to come back downtown, and when the fans did, they ensured it was worth the trip. The noise factor and devotion from Cleveland fans was among the league’s best. Sadly, there is no avenue for this moxie, as a trip to the playoffs looks pretty distant these days.
4. Amway Center – Orlando
Orlando wasn’t known for much more than Disneyworld, huge restaurants, and golf courses, but the past four or five years have had the Magic beating down the doors of the elite in the east. Tradition is no factor in this brand-new stadium, which melds well with the newly-found success of the Magic themselves. At half-a-billion dollars, it offers most every creature comfort one could imagine. If your seats aren’t great, peep the tallest screen in the league, and if you’re passing by, catch the action outside on a 2,000 sf display you can see from the highway.
3. Oklahoma City Arena – Duh
Love or hate the Sonics’ move to OKC, but one can’t argue with the reception they’ve gotten in their new town. The arena, built in 2002, may not be NBA-caliber, as they didn’t have a team in mind, but the fans have embraced the team, partially due to a lack of other things to do in Oklahoma City. Regardless, they love their team, and put all their extracurricular energy behind it. Though it could just be all the excitement behind Durant. It’s hard to distinguish the two.
2. American Airlines Center – Dallas
A 50-win team for eleven consecutive years is bound to bring some excitement and die-hard fans to a even the most dedicated football town. And despite a lack of rings (zero, at last count), the fans treat the team like royalty while hope springs perennial every November. Mark Cuban’s impact on both the team, the fans, and the stadium experience makes this one of the more daunting houses to play in come May, assuming they make it that far.
1. United Center – Chicago
The house that Jordan built has a fan base that was raised expecting greatness. Chicago fans are among the most loyal across all sports, and they expect an annual April pilgrimage to their arena to root on the Bulls in the playoffs. Nowadays, Derrick Rose has the force of the entire city, if not the entire league behind him. This list wasn’t written with this year’s playoffs in mind (see directly above), but it’s hard to not compare the Rose years to those of #23.