When the NBA season gets underway next week, a new arena will join the league family. Nearly 20 years after the opening of the Palace of Auburn Hills, the Detroit Pistons will begin playing their home games at Little Caesars Arena.
In the next two years, two more new arenas will come on-line, with the oldest arena in the NBA giving way to the newest home of the defending champion Golden State Warriors in San Francisco in 2019. In between, another arena that opened in 1988, in Milwaukee, will also be replaced.
But the Bradley Center and the Palace should not be remembered simply as old NBA relics giving way to a new era of arena design and innovation. Those two edifices represented a golden era in NBA arena progress – in the 11 years beginning with Detroit and Milwaukee in 1988, 18 new NBA arenas rose up, including seven alone in the year 1999.
Here is a look at the history of all current NBA arenas, listed from oldest to newest:
Oracle Arena (1966)
The oldest arena in the NBA actually first opened its doors for hockey, hosting the California Seals of the WHL before the Warriors began playing some home games at Oracle during the 1966-67 season. The arena, known originally as Oakland-Alameda Coliseum Arena, became Golden State’s permanent home in 1971 and hosted its first NBA championship in 1975. The Oracle’s reign as the NBA’s oldest arena will end in 2019, when the Warriors will move into a new facility, the Chase Center.
Madison Square Garden (1968)
The title of oldest NBA arena will next belong to the World’s Most Famous Arena in midtown Manhattan. The New York Knicks played their first game at the Garden, located above Penn Station, in 1968. The Garden hosted Knicks titles in 1970 and ’73, as well as the Rangers’ dramatic Stanley Cup victory in 1994. The Garden will remain in its current location for the foreseeable future, even as Penn Station undergoes a massive renovation.
BMO Harris Bradley Center (1988)
Along with the Palace of Auburn Hills, the Bradley Center in Milwaukee opened its doors in 1988 as the NBA entered its league-wide phase of building and occupying new arenas, following the meteoric rise of league revenue in the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson era. The Bradley Center replaced the MECCA, which had hosted the Bucks since 1968 and had the league’s lowest seating capacity of around 11,000. Ironically, although the Bucks became its highest-profile tenant, the Bradley Center was actually built in a failed attempt to land an expansion NHL franchise. Instead, the Bucks began a 30-year run, playing in an arena seating over 18,000.
Target Center (1990)
The expansion Minnesota Timberwolves began play in their own arena in their second season, after spending their inaugural season of 1989-90 playing at the Metrodome. The team shattered the NBA single-season attendance record by drawing over 1 million fans at the Metrodome, but the Target Center was a far more intimate setting. It has undergone an extensive multi-phase renovation in recent years.
Vivint Smart Home Arena (1991)
From 1991-2006, it was known as the Delta Center, and it was the location for the greatest two seasons in Salt Lake City’s NBA history, as the Jazz reached the NBA Finals in consecutive seasons, 1997 and ’98. The building hosted two classic NBA Finals games that the locals would just as soon forget, as Michael Jordan rose above illness in the “Flu Game” in Game 5 of the 1997 Finals, then made the last basket of his Chicago Bulls career by clinching the title in the final seconds of Game 6 in the 1998 Finals. It underwent a $125 million renovation project prior to the 2017-18 season.
Talking Stick Resort Arena (1992)
Known originally as America West Arena, the Suns began play in their new facility in 1992, after 24 years at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum. America West began something of a tradition in the NBA by hosting the NBA Finals in its first season, a feat that would be repeated by both the Lakers and Pacers in the 1999-00 season and by the Spurs in 2002-03.
Quicken Loans Arena (1994)
LeBron James was just a wee lad in 1994 when the Cleveland Cavaliers moved from the Richfield Coliseum to its new downtown home in the same area as the Indians’ Progressive Field and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The “Q” was originally known as Gund Arena before Quicken Loans secured the naming rights after the 2004-05 season. In 2016, the Cavaliers won Cleveland’s first professional championship in 52 years.
United Center (1994)
The House the Mike Built? Although it was one of several new NBA facilities to open in a six-year span beginning in 1988, no new arena opened to more fanfare than the United Center in Chicago, which replaced one of the icons of 20th century sporting arenas, venerable Chicago Stadium, to begin the 1994-95 NBA season. Jordan had been retired for a year when the United Center opened, but there’s no question his three-peat from 1991-93 helped push the plan forward to replace the antiquated, obsolete Chicago Stadium – a process that was followed along a similar pattern in Boston.
TD Garden (1995)
There was perhaps no more famous, no more celebrated and no more hated arena in NBA history than the original Boston Garden. Built in 1928 and actually owned by the Boston Bruins hockey team, the Garden would be forever known for its basketball team, with Red Auerbach’s cigars, the (original) parquet floor – complete with dead spots — the championship banners and retired numbers in the rafters, and – to the chagrin of opposing teams, the lack of air conditioning and cramped visitor’s locker rooms. That all changed in 1995, after years of delays caused by political wrangling that only Boston can produce, the TD Garden went up next door to the old Garden, finally opening in 1995. It would take 13 years for the first banner to go up in the new place, but at least the air conditioning worked just fine.
Moda Center (1995)
Originally known as the Rose Garden, the arena replaced Memorial Coliseum, where the Portland Trail Blazers played from 1970-95 and enjoyed their only NBA championship in 1977, led by Bill Walton. The Moda Center is unique among NBA arenas for its “acoustical cloud” – a collection of 160 panels suspended from the ceiling that creates more noise in the arena by collecting sound and reflecting it back toward the court.
Wells Fargo Center (1996)
One of the most re-named arenas in the NBA, this replacement for the Spectrum in Philadelphia debuted as CoreStates Center in 1996, then was known as the First Union Center from 1998-03. It then became the Wachovia Center from 2003-10, until settling on Wells Fargo Arena. The arena is part of a sports megaplex near the city airport, featuring Citizens Bank Park (Phillies) and Lincoln Financial Field (Eagles).
Capital One Arena (1997)
The Washington Bullets, who had played 24 seasons in Landover, Md., at the Capital Centre, moved into D.C. in 1997 at what was originally known as the MCI Center in the Chinatown section of the nation’s capital. The arena was built by Wizards owner Abe Polin, a rare instance of a professional sports facility funded entirely with private money. While the Wizards have struggled to win on the court over the past two decades, the presence of the arena is said to have contributed heavily to the revitalization of the Chinatown neighborhood.
1999 – The Year of the Arena
In 1999, the NBA arena upgrading reached its zenith, with seven new arenas opening. The most famous new facility resided in Los Angeles, where both the Lakers and Clippers would call the Staples Center their new home, replacing both the Forum and the L.A. Sports Arena. Led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers brought a championship to the new arena in its first season, defeating the Indiana Pacers, who moved on from Market Square Arena to Conseco Field House in 1999 (now Bankers Life Fieldhouse). In Toronto, the Vince Carter-led Raptors began play at AirCanada Centre, while the Miami Heat moved into AmericanAirlines Arena.
New arenas also popped up in Atlanta, Denver and New Orleans, although only two teams began play in 1999. The Hawks moved into Philips Arena, while the Nuggets said goodbye to McNichols Arena and hello to the Pepsi Center. New Orleans Arena (now the Smoothie King Center) would not get an NBA franchise until 2002, when the Charlotte Hornets relocated to the city.
American Airlines Center (2001)
The owner most associated with the Dallas Mavericks is noted Shark Tanker Mark Cuban. But the owner of the Mavs who got a new arena built to replace Reunion Arena in 2001 was actually H. Ross Perot, Jr. In 2006, the two American Airlines-named arenas were the sites of the NBA Finals, with Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena besting Dallas’ American Airlines Center.
AT&T Center (2002)
After 20 years at the HemisFair and another decade at the AlamoDome, the San Antonio Spurs moved into the AT&T Center in 2002, then proceeded to win the NBA title in their first season and added three more titles over the next dozen seasons. Like the Minnesota Timberwolves a dozen years earlier, the Spurs actually scaled down from their previous facility, moving out of the AlamoDome, which was primarily designed for football and had some of the worst sight-lines in the league, into the more basketball-centric facility, which holds nearly 20,000 for Spurs games.
Chesapeake Energy Arena (2002)
Like the New Orleans Arena, the new facility in Oklahoma City would have to wait several seasons for an NBA franchise to come fill it, although how it came to lure the Seattle SuperSonics in 2008 was one of the great ironies in NBA arena history. Like Oklahoma City, New Orleans had its arena built and opened years before an NBA team would come play there. But after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the New Orleans Hornets were displaced, and turned to Oklahoma City to be a temporary home for two seasons. The Hornets were an enormous success at Chesapeake Energy Arena, so much so that Oklahoma City leapt to the forefront of potential landing spots for an expansion or relocating franchise. That came to pass when the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2008.
Toyota Center (2003)
After a political fight as big as the state of Texas, ground was broken in 2001 to build the Rockets a new arena to replace the outdated Summit, with the Toyota Center opening in 2003. Between 1995 and ’01, there were votes in the Texas state house, legal challenges to buyout clauses, threats to move the Rockets to Louisville, KY., and two public referendums, the second one passing in November 2000, with the help of Enron’s Kenneth Lay, who contributed nearly $600,000 to the campaign to get the final referendum passed. Those were the days…
FedEx Forum (2004)
The arena in Memphis was the only newly-built facility that was nearly scuttled by Mother Nature. A rare derecho wind event in the summer of 2003 nearly toppled the cranes that were helping build the new arena, replacing the Pyramid as the home of the Memphis Grizzles. The cranes held despite the 100-mph wind storm, and the Forum would make NBA history as the first arena to use transparent 24-second shot clocks, allowing fans in baseline sections to see through the clock boxes atop each basket, instead of having their view obstructed.
Spectrum Center (2005)
Perhaps the most impactful new arena ever built for an NBA team came in Charlotte, where the failed referendum for a new facility for owner George Shinn actually led to the Hornets leaving Charlotte altogether in 2002, moving to New Orleans. But the departure of Shinn, who demanded a new arena in Charlotte even though Charlotte Coliseum was only 13 years old in 2001, actually led the city of Charlotte to approve a $265 million arena to house the Bobcats, an expansion team promised to the city after the Hornets left. Charlotte Bobcats Arena opened in 2005.
Amway Center (2010)
Although built in 1989, Orlando’s Amway Arena was already old by NBA standards in 2010, with all but seven of the league’s 30 teams having built newer facilities in the intervening years. A plan for a new arena was agreed upon in 2006, as part of a billion-dollar renovation in Orlando, including expansion of the Citrus Bowl and the construction of a performing arts center. The new arena was designed by Populous.
Barclays Center (2012)
Part of a $5 billion real-estate development in Brooklyn, the idea for Barclays Center was originally conceived by Nets owner Bruce Ratner in 2004 and was planned to be built in 2006, but a myriad of legal and financial obstacles – and the eventual sale of the Nets to Russian businessman Mikhail Prokorov in 2009, delayed completion of the project until 2012.
Golden 1 Center (2016)
How had things changed in Sacramento since the days of tiny but raucous ARCO Arena? When Golden 1 Center opened in 2016, its address was 500 David J. Stern Walk. It did not always seem the NBA and Sacramento were long for each other. But in 2013, Vivek Ranadive bought the team from the Maloof brothers and with the purchase came a vow to keep the team in Sacramento and build a new arena, which opened last season. Considered to be the most technologically advanced arena ever built, the Golden 1 Center is the first arena of its kind to be solar powered. It’s Wi-Fi connections are said to be 17,000-thousand times faster than a normal home. And, thanks to an in-season trade, the arena is now 100 percent Boogie-free.
Image courtesy Little Caesars Arena.
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