Noie: A basketball writer's office is the arena, so where's the best place to work?
The office rarely is an option, even when it was before the world as we knew it changed.
Covering college basketball has you on the move from October through March with the office a rumor. You might swing in to pick up a paycheck (before direct deposit) or deliver another expense account (before electronic filing). But the office then and now and hopefully in the future is the basketball arena.
Since 1998, covering the Notre Dame men’s basketball program has meant watching 679 games (and counting) in 73 buildings (and counting) from Alaska to Miami, Boston to Maui. There have been trips to true gyms, and others that are in name only. Some spots like Bradley Center (Milwaukee) and the RCA Dome (Indianapolis) are long gone. Others, like Pittsburgh’s Fitzgerald Field House, have stepped aside for more modern facilities.
The one that’s most often considered the office — Purcell Pavilion — falls somewhere in the middle of everything. Not the best. Not the worst. Best part of covering games over there is it’s 15 minutes from home even on a bad traffic day and allows you to sleep in your own bed. After 22 years on the road, that’s big.
Following are the top 10 favorite and 10 least favorite arenas to visit/watch/cover/write about college basketball. This list is totally subjective. Fans may have the opposite opinion, and that’s cool. There are no right or wrong answers. This is one writer’s opinion while taking into account myriad factors — location, ambiance, media seating, game setup, accessibility, personal history, etc.
THE TOP 10
1. Madison Square Garden (New York)
It’s widely considered the Mecca for a reason. Character? It has it. History? That too. Tradition? Being at the Garden is a religious experience. It’s about way more than basketball. Think of everything that’s ever happened there. There was nothing like a Big East semifinal Friday night. Listen to the pre-game rendition of “God Bless America.” See former President Bill Clinton talking hoops backstage. Work late into the night, then walk down the famous service tunnel that rings the back end of the building. Exit onto 33rd Street with a clear shot of the Empire State Building. It might be 1 a.m., but it feels like 7 p.m. in midtown. Car horns honking. Sirens wailing. Tourists walking. Vendors selling roasted nuts from their street carts. There’s no better basketball/life experience than the Garden.
2. Capital One Arena (Washington)
It’ll always be known as Verizon Center. When Notre Dame and Georgetown were Big East colleagues, it was hard to tell what team had home-court advantage. Sometimes the building was split 60-40 ... for Notre Dame. Walk out the media entrance, take a quick left and head up Sixth Street and you’d spot the dead chickens hanging in the corner restaurant window. The arena sits in Chinatown, which offers a handful of really good dining options. A Marriott property hotel right around the corner is a bonus. Hop on the Metro at Chinatown/Gallery Place for the scenic ride back to Reagan National. Everything about the arena works. If the Atlantic Coast Conference wanted to make D.C. its permanent tournament home, it can.
3. KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, Ky.)
This one busted the arena mold, especially given where Louisville called its basketball home — Freedom Hall — out at the fairgrounds. This place is everything that place wasn’t. Times 10. Sleek. Modern. Overwhelming. It’s NBA-level where everything is first class. It’s filled every game with 22,000 fans in black and red who know basketball. It’s also right downtown in a very walkable city. That it’s just over the Ohio River from Indiana and a relatively easy drive home just adds to it. There’s no place in the ACC that’s better for the full-on basketball weekend experience.
4. University of Dayton Arena (Dayton, Ohio)
A sentimental choice, for sure. I spent four years at Dayton and spent many basketball nights on press row figuring out how to best put together words into story form. The 1990 Midwestern Collegiate Conference championship game between Dayton and Xavier there still might be the one of the best 10 games I’ve covered. I’ve tried to convince Irish coach Mike Brey to start a home-and-home with the Flyers just so I can go back there. He won’t bite.
5. Lahaina Civic Center (Lahaina, Hawaii)
There’s no better setting for a college gym — or any gym — maybe anywhere in the world. The 2,500-seat arena sits on the second level of a building that once served as the area’s department of motor vehicles. Right next door is the Pacific Ocean. Not only is it OK to cover a game here in shorts and sandals and a Hawaiian shirt, it’s almost mandatory. Being here means that another college hoops season is about to go full swing.
6. Cameron Indoor Stadium (Durham, N.C.)
Wipe off the spittle that covers your laptop screen, or ignore the paint the students wear that rubs off on your clothes and absorb the occasional elbow to the melon. The Cameron press row experience is an experience. Students over your shoulder will critique your running game story — better spell Krzyzewski right! Cameron’s unique in that the building just kind of blends in on campus. You wander into the place on a Friday afternoon and it looks so … ordinary. Come game time, it’s anything but.
7. Assembly Hall (Bloomington, Ind.)
Cover a game at Assembly Hall (OK, Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall) and it takes time to realize you’re still in the same state that you call home, only four hours south. Everything about basketball there is so different. There’s more passion. More energy. More everything. Fill it with 17,000-plus fans and it’s pretty intimidating. Look beyond fans’ constant complaints about officiating and it’s one of the game’s treasures.
8. Rupp Arena (Lexington, Ky.)
Big and loud and, did we mention, big? It’s college basketball on steroids. The two levels of seats seem to extend forever. Opposing teams can’t help but feel intimidated when they walk in. Like at IU, it’s filled with fans who know and love the game and aren’t afraid to let those feelings be known. It doesn’t have many of the bells and whistles of today’s modern arenas. It’s bare-bones basketball. Just the way folks down there like it.
9. Pepsi Center (Denver)
A hidden gem discovered only when the NCAA tournament sends you west for a weekend. Downtown on one side of the building, Mile High Stadium (or whatever its now called) across the interstate and the Rocky Mountains in the distance on the other. It’s a big building with plenty of space behind the scenes to get your work done. It’s one of those rare places that feels so much like home that you don’t ever want to leave.
10. Greensboro Coliseum (Greensboro, N.C.)
Nothing says ACC more than the league’s flagship building located in the same city as its league offices. Step inside the big barn (23,000 capacity) and you roll through a mental Rolodex of players who’ve been in the same back hallways and locker rooms. Tim Duncan. Michael Jordan. Christian Laettner. Ralph Sampson. James Worthy. It’s as unique a media work room setup as you’ll find – it’s a big fishbowl of windows located steps from the locker room. Everyone can see you trying to beat deadline. But the candy counter/ice cream bar they roll out during the league tournament can’t be beat.
THE BOTTOM 10
10. Pauley Pavilion (Los Angeles)
How this one lands here is shocking. Before the $136 million renovation was complete in 2012, Pauley had zero character with little link to the school’s national championship days. The baseline seating sections were so far away they may have well been in other time zones. With so many empty bleacher seats inside, and minus the sunshine and palm trees outside, it felt a lot like Elkhart’s North Side Gym.
9. Sullivan Sports Arena (Anchorage, Alaska)
Inside it’s much like the city outside — cold and dark and not a place you wanted to venture to if you don’t have to go. There was two feet of snow outside in a city where the sun rose at 10:30 a.m. and set by 3:30 p.m. If you don’t do isolation, don’t do Anchorage in November. When the team you cover goes a long way to lose to a Division II team (as Notre Dame did in 1998), it can’t be classified as anything but a terrible trip.
8. Miami Arena (Miami)
The old NBA building in the middle of the city’s Overtown neighborhood remains the only place where a police escort to and from the media entrance was mandatory because of the shady surroundings. That still didn’t stop one panhandler for asking for $10 before and after a game one Saturday night. That the laptop power cord died during the first game you covered here and you wound up on an arena pay phone dictating your story back to the desk (where the department lackey taking dictation spelled former Irish coach John MacLeod’s name wrong in the next day’s edition) didn’t help the experience of being on South Beach for a winter weekend.
7. State Farm Center (Champaign, Ill.)
When you’re born and raised in Illinois and attend a high school that basically serves as a feeder to the state university, the old Assembly Hall (before the renovation and rename) was a mythical place that you hoped to visit. When you did, you wondered what all the fuss was about. It’s an homage to a whole lot of concrete and very little character.
6. Dunkin’ Donuts Center (Providence, R.I.)
Still the only arena where an arrest of a reporter was threatened by some feel-strong security guard for apparently not following post-game protocol, but that’s another story. It’s old. It smells. It needs some serious freshening up. It’s not all bad — a good pre-game Italian meal from nearby Federal Hill always was a visit highlight.
5. Blaisdell Arena (Honolulu)
Notre Dame played in a third-tier Thanksgiving tournament in 2001 where only close friends and relatives cared. One game against some school called Hawaii Pacific had about 50 fans in the stands. The seating area for print media for the tournament championship consisted of two people — the Tribune beat writer and Kyle Brey, the Irish coach’s son and then in middle school. Work a game there and it was a couple hours that could’ve been better spent on Waikiki Beach.
4. Millett Hall (Oxford, Ohio)
Notre Dame had to make a pair of trips here (thanks a lot, NBC football contract) — once during Matt Doherty’s lone season and Brey’s second. It went 1-1 in a place that had all the ambiance of part airplane hangar/part high school theater. It’s dark and dreary and drab and just doesn’t do it for basketball.
3. UIC Pavilion (Chicago)
Take a prime location on the city’s near-west side and completely mess it up with something that barely resembles a working arena. Nothing about the place, except for the easy-access parking, works. Notre Dame played in yet another second-tier tournament in 2009 and wound up losing to Northwestern. Ugh! The building had so much potential, but never came close to reaching it.
2. Allstate Arena (Rosemont, Ill.)
This one cuts deep for those who remember the place rocking as the Rosemont Horizon back in the early 1980s. Before DePaul abandoned the building out by O’Hare for Wintrust Arena on the city’s south side, it was depressing to see so many empty seats. DePaul students who bothered to attend would spend entire games hurling four-letter words at everyone associated with Notre Dame, including the team chaplain. The whole scene was sad. This place couldn’t go away soon enough.
1. Watsco Center (Coral Gables, Fla.)
How do you find one of the nation’s idyllic settings and utterly fail with such a bad building? It has the feel of something thrown together in days, not years. It’s cold, it’s dark the media seating stinks and it rarely draws big crowds. Classifying it a dump may be too kind. That you have to work there when the weather outside is so nice stings.
Ten arenas still hope to get to:
1. Allen Fieldhouse (Lawrence, Kan.)
2. The Palestra (Philadelphia)
3. Hinkle Fieldhouse (Indianapolis)
4. The Pit (Albuquerque)
5. Century Link Center (Omaha, Neb.)
6. Matthew Knight Arena (Eugene, Ore.)
7. Williams Arena (Minneapolis)
8. Kohl Center (Madison, Wisc.)
9. Viejas Arena (San Diego)
10. McCarthy Athletic Center (Spokane, Wash.)
Here are 10 arenas that didn’t make the Top 10 best but should be on any college basketball fan’s bucket list to catch at least one game:
1. Dean Smith Center (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
2. Memorial Gymnasium (Nashville, Tenn.)
3. Carrier Dome (Syracuse, N.Y.)
4. Breslin Center (East Lansing, Mich.)
5. Gertsen Pavilion (Los Angeles)
6. Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Indianapolis)
7. Municipal Auditorium (Kansas City, Mo.)
8. Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Iowa City, Iowa)
9. West Virginia Coliseum (Morgantown, W.Va.)
10. Rutgers Athletic Center (Piscataway, N.J.)