Andrew Unterberger just finished his quest to see a game in every NBA stadium. Here are his thoughts on his excellent journey…
Well, it’s been a crazy couple months of Seeing America Right, and while I’m thankful to be returning to a life where all my laundry is in the same place (generally) and I can sleep past 11:00 without having to worry about it costing me an extra day’s worth of hotel rates, I don’t know if I’m quite ready to move on from life on the road just yet. So before I say farewell to the 60/30 series on the Basketball Jones, I had to round up some final facts, figures and findings from my 60 days spent in the NBA wilderness. If you have any specific questions I can answer them in the comments section below. If not, thanks for sticking with me these last two months — hope you’ve felt it’s been the same rewarding, character-building, full-time-employment-delaying experience to read these articles as it was for me to research and write them.
Total Miles Driven: ~14,500.
Total States Visited: 37 (Missed, in alphabetical order: Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia)
Total Amount Spent on Gas: $1,035.27 (Think there were three or four receipts I failed to procure, though, so maybe add another $100 or so to that.)
Final Tally of Damage Done to Car: Busted engine and alternator, broken right side-view mirror, dinged up passenger door, shredded left-rear tire.
Total Cost of Repairing Above Damage: If car repair shop’s estimate on mirror/door estimate is to be believed, $2,305.22. Amount is inflated somewhat by the fact that when I went to get the shredded tire changed, the mechanic told me my other three tires (and one of my brake pads) were about to meet a similar fate and thus needed to be changed as well. I somewhat suspect that the guy quickly sniffed out that I was an idiot and could be pressured into buying anything, but his story was plausible enough that I didn’t feel comfortable enough calling his bluff. (Thus proving him right, I suppose.)
Final Tally of Dwellings Inhabited: 22 hotels, nine guest rooms of friends and family, three F&F couches, and a youth hostel.
Most Reliable Cheap Hotel: Red Roof, by far. Excellent selection of TV channels, friendly guest services, plentiful towels and toiletries, and at a very reasonable price. Towards the end of the trip I stopped going for the cheapest local lodging options possible and just started looking up the closest Red Roof. Keys demagnetize a little too easily, but apart from that, nothing but nice things to say.
Least Reliable Cheap Hotel: Tie between the Crossland hotel I stayed at in Portland (refused to acknowledge my Orbitz reservation and made me wait outside in the cold for a half-hour while they half-heartedly searched for a room to put me in) and the Hawaii Hotel in Miami (gave me a non-operational key, then switched me to a room with no towels and only one bed sheet, which they apparently double-booked since I was woken up at 8:30 the next morning by another family planning on setting up shop there.) The latter wasn’t even that cheap, really.
Most Desperate Movie Watched on Hotel TV Cable: “My Best Friend’s Girl,” starring Dane Cook and Jason Biggs. Most notable for use of phrase “Slice of fuckberry pie.”
Fast Food/Chain Restaurants Patronized: Baja Fresh, Wendy’s, Bojangles, Cracker Barrel, Taco Bell, Roy Rogers, Wawa, Toppers Pizza, Sonic, Fuddrucker’s, Culver’s, Whataburger, Carl’s Jr. Jimmy John’s, Waffle House (3X) and IHOP (6X). Thankful to have gone the entire trip without having once had to resort to going to Perkins.
Coolest City Exit Name Passed: Tie between Zzyzx, California and Yeehaw Junction, Florida.
Most Disconcerting Billboard Passed: “Abortion: This Country’s HOLOCAUST” in North Dakota.
Most Fun Stretch of Road Driven Through: I-15 from Las Vegas to Utah.
Least Fun Stretch of Road Driven Through: I-10 from Phoenix to Houston.
Most Annoying Thing About Driving 14,500 Miles By Yourself: Eating at restaurants alone. They look at you kind of weird for not being able to scare up another person to come eat with you, you feel guilty taking up an entire table by yourself, and you never know what to do with yourself while you’re waiting to be served except to eye-stalk the waitress until she comes over to take your goddamn order. It’s weird. (Close second: Not having anyone to commiserate with when shit goes down. When I was getting ticketed or shut out of a hotel room, I really could have just used a nodding head to agree with me that “Man, this situation fucking sucks, huh??”)
Most Convenient Thing About Driving 14,500 Miles By Yourself: Getting to decide your own bathroom breaks, without anyone making fun of you or trying to disrupt your schedule. Some trips I’d have to stop once an hour, others I was so intent on making time that I wouldn’t stop at all, using the need to piss to motivate my driving to greater heights of insane purposefulness. Only God Can Judge Me. (I’d say that getting to control the music was a close second, but really, no one ever gets to control the music in my car without my say-so anyway.)
Best Stadium Visited: Conseco Fieldhouse, Indiana.
Worst Stadium Visited: Palace at Auburn Hills, Detroit.
Best Home Crowd (Good Teams Division): Madison Square Garden, New York.
Worst Home Crowd (Good Teams Division): Philips Center, Atlanta.
Best Home Crowd (Shitty Teams Division): Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland (though to be fair, they weren’t really shitty just yet at that point).
Worst Home Crowd (Shitty Teams Division): Verizon Center, Washington D.C.
Most Impressive-Looking Stadium (Exterior): Staples Center, Los Angeles.
Least Impressive-Looking Stadium (Exterior): Arco Arena, Sacramento.
Most Impressive-Looking Stadium (Interior): Tie between Amway Center, Orlando and American Airlines Center, Dallas.
Least Impressive-Looking Stadium (Interior): Pepsi Center, Denver.
Prettiest Home Court: Oracle Arena, Golden State.
Ugliest Home Court: Prudential Center, New Jersey.
Best Game I Saw (Good Teams Division): Dallas vs. Utah at the AAC. Dallas jumps out to 29-4 in the first, Deron Williams scores 34 to somehow get the Jazz back in the game, Dirk dishes to Jason Terry in the corner for a dagger three with about eight seconds to go for the win.
Worst Game I Saw (Good Teams Division): Orlando vs. Boston at Amway Center. Two teams miss a combined 173 jumpers and play to a mid-70s standstill before Jameer Nelson actually makes a couple shots to win the game for the Magic.
Best Game I Saw (Bad Teams Division): Minnesota vs. L.A. Clippers at the Target Center. Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin combine for 56 and keep the Clippers in it the entire game, but Michael Beasley scores 33 for the Timberwolves, including a game-winning jumper with two seconds left (and a pitch-perfect accompanying strut).
Worst Game I Saw (Bad Teams Division): New Jersey vs. Charlotte at the Prudential Center. The fewer details I actually try to remember about this game, the better.
Best Single-Game Performance I Saw (Team): Oklahoma City’s absolute undressing of the undermanned and under-inspired Cavaliers at the Ford Center, 106-77. So infectious with the team-wide highlights that even the fans were hitting half-court shots.
Best Single-Game Performance I Saw (Individual): Steve Nash’s near no-hitter against the Wizards — 20 points on 8-8 shooting with 17 assists and two turnovers, in a 125-108 victory. Even better than the stat line indicates.
Most Disappointing Single-Game Performance (Team): Lakers falling at home to the Pacers. Of course they’d lose about a half-dozen more disappointing games over the course of the next month, but at the time it was a big deal.
Most Disappointing Single-Game Performance (Individual): A tie between the starting centers of the Boston-Orlando game. Shaq and Superman combined for 8 points and personal fouls. Maybe I shouldn’t have bought that t-shirt advertising the battle between the two beforehand. Never good luck.
Favorite Piece of Swag Acquried: My Clippers Santa hat from Staples Center. Couple other close ones that I love — my Spurs hammer, my Thunderball, my $10 Heat Beasley jersey — but from the very first moment I saw that Clips Santa hat, I knew we were going to be together forever.
Total Amount Spent on Souvenirs: $633.14. Most expensive single item was probably the Dirk jersey I bought in Dallas.
Most Frequently Heard Jock Jam at the Stadiums: “Kernkraft 400″ by Zombie Nation, at 12 different stadiums. (Trust me, you know it.) Close behind: Enrique Iglesias’s “I Like It” and Guns n Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” (nine stadiums), and 2 Unlimited’s “Twilight Zone,” AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” and Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” (eight stadiums).
Biggest Fanboy Rush Experienced: Andre Miller repeatedly stretching his legs on the table about two feet away from my courtside seat in Memphis. I love you always and forever, Andre.
Biggest Bummer of Trip: 30 stadiums, and not once did I get my hands on one of the free t-shirts thrown into the crowd. Closest was my final game at MSG, where the reporter sitting next to me in press row saw a t-shirt bounce to him, and he gave it away to some kid in the section over. Shoulda consulted me first, guy. Woulda meant way more to me, guarantee it.
Second-Biggest Bummer of Trip: No overtimes. 30 different games, think I’d get at least one. But no. No literal buzzer-beaters either, but enough game-winners late in the fourth that I can’t really complain.
Game I Didn’t See That Made Me Most Bummed to Be Away From My League Pass: Tie between Kevin Love’s 31/31 against the Knicks, Blake Griffin’s amazing night of dunks against the Knicks, or the Knicks-Celtics game at MSG. Huh, guess those all involve the Knicks. Might not have needed League Pass for that after all.
Primary Lesson Learned About the NBA Over the Course of Trip: It seems to me like teams just need to make more of an effort to sell the live experience to fans. After going to 30 games in 30 different arenas, it seemed like only about five of them had the attendance that they actually deserved–the rest there was always some excuse, an inconvenient night, a lousy opponent, bad weather, who knows. In reality, I think the TV experience of watching the NBA these days, especially with the advent of League Pass and HD TV, is so good that merely getting the live NBA experience might not be worth the inconvenience and often exorbitant cost. To some degree the product sells itself, but to rely on that being enough, and merely slapping on a couple concession stands and calling it a day for your arena seems like a really risky bet to me, should things with the team ever go south.
I think you need to do more. You need to make your stadium a part of your city’s history like Conseco, you need to make your stadium the place to be like Staples, you need to make it as exciting and fun as the team like US Airways, you need to make your stadium an inextricable part of the community like the AT&T Center. It’s possible, and the templates are certainly there, but too many arenas seem content to float along in anonymity, unwilling or unable to make the surroundings feel new, different, exciting, important. There’s no doubt that the NBA is alive and well in American popular culture — the bump in TV ratings shows that the public’s appetite for quality pro hoops is as ravenous as ever — but it won’t translate to ticket sales until teams realize that the games cost too much and don’t deliver enough, and that the stadiums are only doing a fraction of what they can to sway that discrepancy.
Secondary Lesson Learned About the NBA Over the Course of Trip: The East is a fucking depressing place for professional basketball. May my next hoops life find me somewhere in California or Texas, please.
Quickly, some photos. Up top, you can see all the tix/passes/StubHubs for the games I went to. And here, all the swag I’ve acquired over 30 stadiums.
And finally, some thanks. Thanks to all the bloggers and writers, many of the ESPN TrueHoop network, who agreed (and in some cases, reached out) to help me with my articles at the various stadiums. In roughly chronological order: Jake Appleman of NBA.com, Eric Koreen of the National Post, Brendan Bowers of Stepien Rules, Jared Wade of Eight Points Nine Seconds, Andrew R Tonry of Portland Roundball Society, Zach Harper of Cowbell Kingdom, Spencer Hall of Salt City Hoops, Nate Timmons of Denver Stiffs, Michael Schwartz of Valley of the Sun, Andrew A. McNeill of 48 Minutes of Hell, Royce Young of Daily Thunder, Chris Herrington of the Memphis Flyer, Scott Kushner of Rivals.com, Bret LaGree of Hoopinion, David Dwork of Peninsula is Mightier, Brett Hainline of Queen City Hoops and Kyle Weidie of Truth About It. Appreciate you taking the time, gentlemen, and look forward to reading stuff from all of you in the future.
Thanks to everyone who followed me on Twitter, especially those who offered me advice on food and recreation, and definite thanks to those of you who volunteered to meet up with me at your local games — awesome of you all to do so. Thanks to everyone who put me up for the night, friends and family, especially those of you who didn’t charge me for the privilege. Thanks to all the guys here at the Jones for believing in me enough to give me the space and exposure to do my thing and for being nothing but encouraging and helpful throughout the entire process. Thanks to my roommate Victor for helping me out with the above photos, and thanks to my friend Lisa for talking me out of giving up on this project before I even began. And most of all, thanks to my parents Glenn and Alyse, without whose support (in just about every definition of the word) I never would have been able to do this.
All right, enough of this. Bulls-Sixers is on tonight, and I gotta make up for lost time with my Liberty Ballers. Thanks again for reading, and see you guys around.