With the NHL winning major media coverage with outdoor and heritage games and MLB scoring huge ratings with the 2021 Field of Dreams game, discussions of an outdoor signature NBA event are underway in league circles.
We were at the 2021 Field of Dreams game and saw what an impact it made on baseball fans across the interest spectrum, casual to hardcore. The same thing happens with the outdoor NHL New Year’s Day and heritage games: they present unique spins on events that might otherwise be overlooked by more casual fans.
So it’s no surprise that the NBA is interested in some sort of signature outdoor event. Now, outdoor NBA games are rare, but they have been around. Civic Arena, home to the ABA’s Pittsburgh Pipers and Pittsburgh Condors and the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, sported a retractable roof; the Phoenix Suns formerly held annual outdoor games at Indian Wells Tennis Garden, and at various points at least one NBA team looked at (and passed on) plans for a new retractable-roof arena. (We‘ll see if the Las Vegas All Net arena and resort ends up a reality; at one point a retractable roof was planned there.)
But there are obviously some issues with an NBA game played outdoors. Humidity wreaks havoc on wood courts, something the Suns found out as well as did participants in other indoor sports played as a special event outside (like pro bowling). At the NCAA level, the Carrier Classic–designed as a patriotic endeavor, with games played on naval carriers–ended up with canceled games because of similar humidity issues. There’s always the chance of inclement weather impacting the event; Field of Dreams ended up having good, albeit humid weather; a big rainstorm would have turned much of the grounds muddy.
These issues are apparent to NBA officials: “The biggest concern is the basketball one you highlight, that whether it’s blacktop and injury concerns or a wooden court outside with humidity concerns and moisture that can get on the court, being beholden to rain, all of those things become a consideration. We’ve explored it, and we’ll continue to talk about it,” Evan Wasch, NBA executive vice president of basketball strategy and analytics, said on the Crossover podcast.
Coming up with an alternate heritage venue to mark the league’s 75th anniversary may be a better idea; alas, none of arenas hosting the NBA (then the BAA) in 1946 still stand as a working arena, save Maple Leaf Gardens–but there is a huge asterisk here, as the former Toronto Huskies/Toronto Maple Leafs home has been renovated with a grocery store on the former arena floor and the arena raised to an upper level for a more intimate experience. Uline Arena, home of the original Washington Capitols, is still standing but in use as an REI store.