Rank Em’: NBA Arenas

There are three factors I use to determine the rating for an arena: Aesthetics, Atmosphere, and Location.  What I look for in grading a venue’s location is its accessibility via public transportation and the area surrounding it. When looking at Aesthetics, I’m looking at the overall vibe of the venue from the lighting, general eye test, and its uniqueness setting it apart from others. And lastly, when it comes to the Atmosphere I’m looking at all the intangibles including the “fun factor”, fan intensity/involvement, and food.  These are my rankings of the National Basketball Association arenas around the country.

Note: I only rate the venues that I’ve actually attended a game in.  Stay tuned as I will be adding to this list as I progress.  All photos are mine unless otherwise noted.

 

21.  Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia 76ers

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Dated at just over 20 years, this arena lacks the classic feel of MSG and shows every bit of its age.  Philly fans are known to be overly passionate and involved in the support of their franchise.  Wells Fargo Center is a nest for those fans to intimately cheer on their squad in a home that only they can appreciate.  Post game activity is limited to the strip of bars close by the Sports Complex as downtown Philadelphia is about a 20 minute drive from the arena.

Location: 7/10

Aesthetics: 6/10

Atmosphere: 7/10


20.  Smoothie King Center – New Orleans Pelicans

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Not the fanciest arena I’ve ever been to. Gives off the feel of Chesapeake Arena in OKC, whereas this was not built with basketball in mind. Jumbotron is a cool feature and the atmosphere was more lively than expected. Aside from Atlanta, I don’t hear many arenas play much “urban” music during breaks like they did in New Orleans. Smoothie King is a favorite of mine after a workout or just for getting my healthy fix, not so much during a basketball game. But of course they have many other food and drink options to compliment the reputation of New Orleans’ style.

Location: 8/10

Aesthetics: 5/10

Atmosphere: 7/10


19.  Spectrum Center – Charlotte Hornets

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This arena had a lot of promise but it failed to deliver in many forms.  The atmosphere was dull and much of the excitement came from the low prices of the concession stands.

Location: 7/10

Aesthetics: 7/10

Atmosphere: 7/10


18.  Talking Stick Resort Arena – Phoenix Suns

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Located in downtown Phoenix, this funny named arena has all the makings for a great place to watch games.  Much of the experience was tainted from the success of the team and the involvement of the fan base.  However, the food selection was a step above most other arenas that I’ve experienced.  If Phoenix can transform their young nucleus of stars into a well rounded contender, Talking Stick Resort Arena will be the talk of the town.

Location: 8/10

Aesthetics: 7/10

Atmosphere: 6/10


17.  Vivint Smart Homes Arena (Formerly Energy Solutions Arena) – Utah Jazz

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Very likable environment with a surprisingly cool overhead monitor.  Somewhat outdated in regards to seating and things of that nature.  Accessibility is no issue when attending a game in this conveniently located arena.

Location: 8/10

Aesthetics: 7/10

Atmosphere: 7/10


16. FedEx Forum – Memphis Grizzlies

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FedEx Forum is that ugly girl who drives a nice car. You like her but you know you’re only into her for one thing. That thing here is ENERGY. Very fun atmosphere at the game, there was even a wrestling match to entertain between breaks. Not much to look at throughout but it isn’t a totally sore thumb.

Location: 8/10

Aesthetics: 5/10

Atmosphere: 9/10


15. Capital One Arena – Washington Wizards

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After going to a Washington Capitals game in the same arena, this experience was tainted with disappointment. The hockey match experience was light years above what the Wiz had to offer. Sure it’s in the same arena and ultimately has the same fanbase but when it comes down to support it’s well known who the favorite is in town. This could a result of just about every other franchise in the area winning a championship recently (Mystics, Nationals, Capitals all winning within the last 3 years). The food options are great, the most popular being TLC which has great chicken tenders and unique sauce options. The arena itself is nice and has a lot to offer aesthetically. I just wish the same energy was given to the Wizards as the other franchises in the DC area.

Location: 9/10

Aesthetics: 7/10

Atmosphere: 6/10


14.  Target Center – Minnesota Timberwolves

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Downtown Minneapolis is sprawling with a bevy of cool bars and restaurants that accent the trio of their major sports arena.  Target Center is a clean, fun environment to watch a game.  The only reason that this arena is not higher is due to the dull atmosphere.  I really didn’t feel the intensity factor that I’ve seen in other arenas.  Not fault to the arena in itself though as I’ve stated it a great eye catcher with potential.

Location: 10/10

Aesthetics: 8/10

Atmosphere: 6/10


13.  Scotiabank Arena – Toronto Raptors

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Looks like a hockey arena that they allow basketball to be played in. Very untraditional setup. I bought a ticket in the nosebleeds for $85 was stuck looking at a tv in the section to get a view of what was happening on the court. When I purchased the ticket there was no mention of an obstructed view. If there was such warning, I would have gladly spent the extra $30-$40 to have a better view. Nonetheless, the game was exciting and the atmosphere was vibrant. I wouldn’t expect anything less from a fanbase supporting a team coming off of a championship run. The different bar areas are cool, some are ducked off away from the concourse kind of like the St. Louis Blues arena (aka a hockey arena). This is just one of those times when “just getting in the building” wasn’t quite the same.

Location: ??

Aesthetics: ??

Atmosphere: ??


12.  American Airlines Center – Dallas Mavericks

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Very cool arena with a great fan base. I’m a fan of the bar selection they have. Very western feel walking through the arena as the decor is wooden and i guess…..western. Great atmosphere throughout the game and a good bit to see visually.

Location: 7/10

Aesthetics: 8/10

Atmosphere: 9/10


 

11.  United Center – Chicago Bulls

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Once looked at as the most popular arena in the NBA during the Jordan reign, United Center is still a landmark for lifetime NBA fans many years after. I visited the arena back in 2009 on my first visit to Chicago and at that time I had one mission, take a pic with the Jordan statue outside of the arena. These days the Jordan statue sits inside the arena foyer as they have remodeled its surroundings by extending the arena to cover it. I would imagine these renovations were done in preparation for the upcoming 2020 All-Star game or it could be just to keep visitors out of the Chicago winter while taking a pic with the statue. Who knows, it could be both. Either way, once you get pass the grand entrance that is Michael Jordan, there isn’t much else to look forward to that will “wow” you about the arena. It is still one of the older arenas in the league and is very limited in what it can do to keep up with others. There’s still a feeling of nostalgia about the arena as you walk the halls and get the feel of the “house that MJ built” and won many championships in.

Location: 7/10

Aesthetics: 8/10

Atmosphere: 8/10


10.  Oracle Arena – Golden State Warriors

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Photo Cred: gametime.com

Before the Splash Brothers, before the multiple championship runs, before the wins healed all pain in Oakland, the Warriors were just…..the Warriors.  One of the more outdated arenas in the league, there’s really not much to do about this place.  Located inconveniently to anything remotely fun whilst conveniently accessible by the BART transit to Oakland and San Fran fans alike.  The fans at Oracle Arena were still as lively as they are in the present day form.

Location: 7/10

Aesthetics: 7/10

Atmosphere: 10/10


 

9.  Little Caesars Arena – Detroit Pistons

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One of the newer arenas in the NBA and it shows. Great atmosphere to catch a game in. Very very spacious concourse area that reminds me of a terminal at a train station based on how grand and open it is. Taken after the name on the arena, the food options include but not limited to Little Caesars pizza. Not the best on price but does give bang for buck if you order a whole pizza.

Location: 7/10

Aesthetics: 8/10

Atmosphere: 8/10



 

8.  Chesapeake Arena – Oklahoma City Thunder

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Chesapeake Arena is not the most appealing arena on the list but my goodness were they the loudest.  Originally intended to accommodate a hockey team, this arena was built meeting NBA minimum specs.  The small town franchise feeds off of the intimate environment and the fan’s involvement is as direct as I’ve seen.  The arena is located in the not so booming metropolis of downtown Oklahoma City housing a river passing through that makes great scenery for a nice pregame dinner/drink.

Location: 8/10

Aesthetics: 7/10

Atmosphere: 10/10


7.  Golden 1 Center – Sacramento Kings

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This arena was the most surprising experience I have had along the journey. I’m not quite sure what I expected from it but whatever it was, it surpassed. Starting from the entrance, you see that this arena means business. There’s an open area you walk into after the metal detectors that gives you a view of the court immediately. Very cool arena, nice atmosphere to go along with. “Small town” market fanbases usually have a boost in attendance and excitement even if their team is subpar. This proved to be the case as the game was between the Kings & Grizzlies who were both at the time well under a .500 record. By just looking on you would never know that as the fans were very involved and engaged in to what their young team was producing on the court.

Location: 9/10

Aesthetics: 9/10

Atmosphere: 9/10


6.  State Farm Arena (Philips Arena) – Atlanta Hawks

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Ok, Ok, Ok this will be my last rating largely swayed by bias.  Philips Arena is home to my hometown Hawks and plays a large part in my quest to see just how different the experience would be at all other arenas.  Ryan Cameron is the best in-arena announcer I have seen.  His energy is contagious and his sidekick organist, Sir Foster make the perfect one-two punch of entertainment.  The area around Philips is flooded with restaurants, bars, The Georgia Aquarium, the CNN Center, the Coca-Cola Factory, and the Centennial Olympic Park.  These attractions make for a great family outing before checking out the game itself and speak to the growing tourist magnet that is downtown Atlanta.  The knock on Atlanta fans is that they only show up to watch the other team or sell their tickets to the opposing fans that have migrated to the city.  Much of that is very true and sways depending on the success of the Hawks.  Games 4 & 6 of the 2008 Playoff series versus the eventual champion Boston Celtics were easily the best games I’ve ever attended.  I’ve never seen that arena as united as we were during that series and it speaks to the potential fan base budding and waiting for a team to cheer on night in and night out.

Location: 10/10

Aesthetics: 8/10

Atmosphere: 10/10


 

5.  Toyota Center – Houston Rockets

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Located in the center of the downtown area in Houston, Toyota Center is the most family friendly environment I’ve visited in the NBA.  For an arena that opened 15 years ago, this venue holds many up-to-date features that enhance the experience of a Rockets game. My favorite feature is the “Skycourt” area sponsored by Children’s Memorial Hermann.  This area is fun filled with many arcade games, a miniature full court, video games, and much more.  This area is reminiscent of the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass in a smaller sample size.  The best part is that it’s all free!  However, the high prices on the concessions would be my only knock on the venue but I have a solution to that.  Instead of dining at the arena, take a 5 minute stroll to Biggio’s sports bar in the local Marriott Marquis before or after the game.

Special Note:  Purchasing tickets for a Rockets game requires downloading the “Flash Seats” app.

Location: 10/10

Aesthetics: 9/10

Atmosphere: 9/10


4.  American Airlines Arena – Miami Heat

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Photo Cred: fansided.com

Much like my experience at “The Q”, my time at AAA was much influenced by Lebron and “The Heatles”.  Wade, Bosh, and #23 were in the height of their run with the Heat and Miami was buzzing with star power and fan ship.  AAA plays to the South Beach vibe that comes with the city of Miami as the arena is located amongst palm trees, the shore overlooking the city, and possesses a large glass wall showcasing all of Biscayne Blvd.  Uber is highly recommended when attending this crowded location as parking can be scarce.  Another bias I hold with this experience is that I attended the game with a season ticket holder who had an extra ticket in the 5th row and held access to the Hyde nightclub located under the arena.  Walking through the club after the game became a “who’s who” lookout show full of celebs and popular faces.

Special Note:  The only picture I have of my time here is a distorted grainy pic of Lebron and Wade.  Word to the wise: charge your phone before going out.

Location: 9/10

Aesthetics: 10/10

Atmosphere: 9/10


 

3.  Staples Center – Los Angeles Clippers

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Staples Center is the holy grail of basketball legacy (at least on the west coast).  Decorated by a plethora of statues of the many legends that came through LA over the years, Staples has an aura unmatched by any other arena I’ve visited.

Location: 9/10

Aesthetics: 10/10

Atmosphere: 10/10


 

2.  Madison Square Garden – New York Knicks

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As one of the top listed arenas on my bucket list, Madison Square Garden surely did not disappoint.  The arena is centered in the heart of downtown NYC just blocks away from the tourist treasure Times Square.  While most arenas invite a raucous and rowdy crowd, the Garden plays to more of a Broadway approach in putting on a show revolved around the basketball game.  Timeouts and half-time are filled with everything from musical competitions to acrobatic shows. The central lighting mostly focused on the court and the “awkward” silence during gameplay have much to do with the classic feel of the experience.   Regardless of the Knicks’ record, be prepared to pay above average for your tickets and food.  Take a trip to New York to see the Knicks and see just why they call it “The World’s Most Famous Arena”

Location: 10/10

Aesthetics: 10/10

Atmosphere: 10/10


 

1. Quicken Loans Arena – Cleveland Cavaliers

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Lebron James is the greatest player in the NBA, some argue the greatest ever, and Cleveland knows it.  Attending a game in “The Q” was some of the most fun I’ve had in an NBA game.  Winning is always fun and it helps when your team has the aforementioned “GOAT”.  Fan interaction was at an all-time high and the electricity was contagious.  “The Q” is centered in downtown Cleveland next to Jack’s Casino and a variety of bars and restaurants for post game fun.  I’m very aware that my experience watching a playoff game in Cleveland with Lebron on roster is vastly different than an experience sans #23 but when that’s all I have to go off of can you blame me for placing them #1??

Special Note:  Purchasing tickets for a Cavs game requires downloading the “Flash Seats” app.

Location: 10/10

Aesthetics: 9/10

Atmosphere: 11/10


My Top 5 Unvisited Arenas:

  1. Staples Center – Los Angeles Lakers
  2. T.D. Garden – Boston Celtics
  3. Barclays Center – Brooklyn Nets
  4. Air Canada Centre – Toronto Raptors
  5. Pepsi Center – Denver Nuggets

Where is your favorite NBA Arena? Where do you think I should go next?  Comment your suggestions below

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