This week the NBA begins its two-month march toward the Golden State Warriors winning their second straight championship. But let's be honest, in a league where the end result is only slightly less predictable than the last scene of a romantic comedy, the playoffs are really more about the journey than the destination. And to help you enjoy said journey -- since, you know, your team's probably not gonna win it all -- we decided to rank the 16 playoff arenas.
We took into consideration everything from the buildings' architecture and sightlines, to crowd intensity, food/drink, and the on-court entertainment during timeouts. In the end, you'll be happy to know, Golden State didn't win.
Please Don't Hang Up: The Best Things to See, Eat, and Do in Seattle, WA
Detroit Pistons Auburn Hills, MI Coolest feature: The West Atrium, which sheds natural light on the concourse and displays the Pistons’ three Larry O’Brien Trophies
When it opened in 1988, the Palace was the first modern arena built in the NBA, with a full level of suites, digital video board, and seats with actual padding. That barely suffices for a high school gym today, and while the Palace has gotten some upgrades, it’s still way behind most of the league. Not only are the seats in the upper deck a looooong way from the court, but the arena itself is a looooong way from anything other than a freeway offramp. There's nothing particularly WRONG with the Palace, it’s just that in an era of more-modern arenas, it feels old.
15. Staples Center
LA Clippers Los Angeles, CA Coolest feature: The scoreboard has MORE scoreboards on the bottom. Probably installed so celebs sitting courtside at Lakers games didn't have to crane their necks to see the score, but admittedly useful if you’re sitting down low for the Clips as well.
The allure of the Staples Center isn't its amenities or concessions, it's in the history. Of which the Clippers have none. Sure, a game today might not be the mausoleum it was 10 years ago, but aside from Clipper Darrell and the occasional celebrity sighting, there's nothing too exciting about the place. Wait, we take that back: the Smokehouse Barbecue on the 300 level does make some mean brisket and has a patio with views of Downtown LA.
14. Philips Arena
Atlanta Hawks Atlanta, GA Coolest feature: The entryway. Although the scoreboard from the old Omni on display in the concourse is pretty cool too.
From an architectural standpoint, this is one of the most intriguing arenas in the league: it looks like a bridge with a glass wall from a distance. And up close, you realize the support beams spell "Atlanta,” making for a pretty cool entrance. The food isn't anything notable and the crowd -- while probably the best fans in Atlanta -- is still, well, made up of fans from Atlanta. The location Downtown does make it a great venue for a night out, though, and the team store sells something for $10... every day. So there's that.
13. AmericanAirlines Arena
Miami Heat Miami, FL Coolest feature: There is no cool feature in Miami! Kidding. It's probably the flame-shooting scoreboard and pyrotechnics during pre-game player introductions.
Like a lot of folks from Miami, the city's arena is jaw-droppingly beautiful from the outside but completely awful on the inside. The concourses are narrow and lit in either red or yellow, sometimes creating a surreal, cramped, confusing experience. And the sightlines from the upper deck are so poor that you may as well be watching from Ft Lauderdale. Which is probably why during a lot of regular season games, you'll find half the fans buying bottles at Hyde -- the club under the stands -- rather than enjoying the on-court action. The only saving grace for this place is the Pincho Factory stand, where you can get one of Miami’s best burgers.
San Antonio Spurs San Antonio, Texas Coolest feature: The colorful art in the walkways. In stark contrast to the team's uniforms (and general personality), the concourses are covered in bright local artwork and are worth getting to the game early to check out.
If an arena were ever a perfect reflection of a team, it's the AT&T Center in San Antonio. It's not flashy, it's not particularly exciting, and you kind of forget it exists until the NBA Finals. But the Spurs' post-Alamodome home is a barn-shaped tribute to efficiency, an 18,000-seat basketball palace designed more for viewing hoops than generating as much money as possible. There's only one level of suites, which keeps the upper deck close to the action, and the arena is an octagon rather than an oval, so the sightlines from the corners are some of the best in the league. Aside from Whataburger, the food isn't much to speak of, but there is a full-service daiquiri bar if you're into frozen drinks at indoor sporting events.
11. Oracle Arena
Golden State Warriors Oakland, CA Coolest feature: The X-pattern that goes around the outside and was kept intact from the original design in the 1970s. It gives the arena a retro look, despite the modern interior.
Kind of like an average-looking person who hangs around really unattractive people to look better, the Oracle's a downright beauty next to its neighbor O.Co Coliseum. Standing alone, however? Well there are reasons why the Warriors are moving to San Francisco next year, and it's not just for the burritos. While the arena was updated in 1997 and maintains a modern vibe, it's still small and the seats can be cramped. On the flip side, it offers a more intimate feel than at some newer arenas, and the crowd is intense and knowledgeable and has been long before Steph Curry came to town.
10. Chesapeake Energy Arena
Oklahoma City Thunder Oklahoma City, OK Coolest feature: The art gallery on the lower concourse, full of works from Desmond Mason
Never mind that the former Sonics play about as close to the Chesapeake as they do to Seattle, naming rights don't have geographic requirements. Everything about this arena screams: "We're not trying to gouge our fans," and that is definitely something we can get behind. It started when the place was built for less than $100 million, and continues today: you can get beers for $7 (Golden State, by comparison, charges $12.50), souvenir sodas for $5.50, and hot dogs for $3.50. Although you may want to shell out a little more for the footlong stuffed with jalapeno cheddar, it's worth it. Finally, despite the fact that parking can be a serious pain, the surrounding Bricktown District makes this arena a fun destination for the night.
9. Time Warner Cable Arena
Charlotte Hornets Charlotte, NC Coolest feature: Hugo's Boss Burger -- an 8lb, 14-patty burger that costs $75. Free T-shirt and possible coronary awarded if you finish it.
Let's forget for a second this place is named after a company that most cable-subscribing Americans curse on an hourly basis. The arena itself is strikingly beautiful and modern from the outside, while full of artwork and unusual, Hornets-themed décor inside. Past that, it's got about all the excitement of a regional airport terminal, as most fans in North Carolina use up their hoops enthusiasm on the college game. The relatively quiet crowd is polite and often distracted, but going there isn't a terrible time either. And the 3D replica of one of America's best skylines over the scoreboard is one of the coolest non-video features in the NBA.
Cleveland Cavaliers Cleveland, OH Coolest feature: The roof design, which is actually the shape of the arena site tilted 90 degrees
Like with a lot of things in Cleveland, the arena gets an undeserved bad rap. Yes, it's filled with thousands of self-pitying Cavs fans, but it's also filled with food from renowned chefs like Michael Symon (B Spot for burgers, brats, and beers) and Greenhouse Tavern's Jonathon Sawyer (pretzel and sausage stand). Past the culinary offerings, "The Q" has easily the best-named scoreboard in basketball -- the HD Humungotron -- and a cool glass canopy which gives the arena a clean look from the front. It's also walking distance from E 4th St and all the first-rate restaurants and bars.
Memphis Grizzlies Memphis, TN Coolest feature: The glass-walled practice court next to the arena where you can watch the Grizzlies play all season for free
The arena is a glass-and-brick model of modern architecture, and the interior is just as interesting. It's the odd sports arena where you know exactly what city you're in without having to look for a team logo, with themed concourses named "Blues," "Gospel," and "Soul" that highlight the city's storied musical history. The food options are similarly Memphis, with names like "Juke Joint" and offerings like fried catfish. The walls are adorned with 1960s photos of life on the Delta, and aren't overly romanticized either. Unfortunately, it's also filled with fans who came up on college hoops and are about as passionate about the NBA as they are about artisanal cheese; all the energy that should be in the arena is probably somewhere out on Beale St.
6. TD Garden
Boston Celtics Boston, MA Coolest feature: Other than the parquet floor, the Boston Sports Museum. Far more than the usual wall of team memorabilia that adorns most arenas, this two-level museum is devoted to all of Boston's pro sports, and even includes stuff from local high schools.
The old Boston Garden might have been the best arena in basketball history. It also had rats. And sometimes history has to give way to, ya know, not rats. The TD Garden, while modern, still manages to capture some of the character of the old spot, right down to the perfectly duplicated parquet floor (the original was replaced in 1999). The arena is decidedly comfortable and open and has fantastic sightlines (plus air conditioning!), three restaurants, concessions from local favorites, and multiple craft beer bars. And its location in an area of town with plenty of sports bars and pre/post-game action makes it a fun place to take in a game.
5. Toyota Center
Houston Rockets Houston, TX Coolest feature: The scoreboard. In the most obvious pissing contest in sports, it stands 25ft tall, stretches 58ft down the sidelines, and 25ft behind the backboards. It's the largest arena scoreboard IN THE WORLD. Houston's obvious answer to Jerry Jones' monstrosity in Dallas.
Though the main entrance -- with the massive glass walls and towering Toyota logos -- makes this look like the world’s largest car dealership, it actually offers one of the better game experiences in the NBA. And there's barbecue EVERYWHERE -- so even if the Rockets aren't good, you know the three-meat platter and dry-rubbed smoked brisket will be. The team also has history, so even in transplant-heavy Houston, there are passionate, knowledgeable fans (many of whom audition to sit in the "superfan" sections).
Dallas Mavericks Dallas, TX Coolest feature: The Dr Pepper Bottling Plant. It's not an actual bottling plant, but if you love this signature Southwestern soda, they serve a Dr Pepper BBQ brisket sandwich and a Dr Pepper Chicken Tender Smasher, neither of which you will find elsewhere.
If you dumped the Mavericks home on the tarmac at DFW, nobody would bat an eyelash -- it could easily pass as an old airplane hangar. Mark Cuban has created an experience here that's both fan-friendly and pure business genius: tickets start at about $10, but the in-arena offerings are so tempting you'll be hard-pressed to walk out without dropping a lot more cash. There's a Texas beer bar (that pours local favorites like ZiegenBock, Saint Arnold's, and Firemans #4), a Woodbridge wine bar, and bars that serve barbecue, steak, and even gourmet cookies. There's also an attached nightclub and ultra lounge, PIRA, which stays open until 2am after games and is open to the public on non-game nights.
3. Moda Center
Portland Trail Blazers Portland, OR Coolest feature: The acoustical cloud. The Moda Center is the only arena in pro sports with adjustable acoustics: 160 panels in the rafters that can be tweaked depending on the event. When the Blazers want crowd noise, the panels face down. But if Andrea Bocelli comes to town and doesn't want that kinda reverb, they can flip them over and create a first-rate concert hall.
The exterior might be the coolest modern design in basketball, with a circular roof resting at an angle over the oval and coming to a point like the bow of a boat. The food inside is, as you would expect, reflective of one of America's best foodie cities: expect slices from Sizzle Pie, chicken and waffles from Po' Shines Café De La Soul, and Stumptown coffee. The fans, though, are what make the experience here so special. As Portland's only major pro team (sorry, Timbers!), the Blazers have a hardcore following of fans who know more about basketball than any human should.
2. Air Canada Centre
Toronto Raptors Toronto, ONT Coolest feature: The Drake Zone. We wish we were making this up.
Having watched Strange Brew enough to know that Canadians' two favorite things on Earth are beer and hockey, the designers of Air Canada Centre (also home to the Maple Leafs) put a Molson Brewery... IN THE FREAKIN' STADIUM. So before the game you can watch your Rickard's Red beer being brewed on the south side of the main concourse. Or, hit the Crown Corner and you can check out both the on-court action and the 10th-best skyline in the world. The arena’s also got fantastic sightlines -- the last seat in the upper deck is only 165ft from the sideline -- and the food offerings span the continent with everything from poutine to Tex-Mex.
1. Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Indiana Pacers Indianapolis, IN Coolest feature: The seating. There's not an arena in pro sports that puts you on top of the action like the Fieldhouse.
In a league with so much similarity, Indiana stands out. And that's what makes it the best. Located Downtown and in the middle of the action, BLF looks like a modernized version of an old brick college arena from the 1930s. While modern designs trend Deco and sleek, Indy bucked and went retro, building vertical, fieldhouse-style seating and using hand-painted brick for advertisements in lieu of LEDs. And that attention to throwback detail even extends to the Art Deco ticket windows and relics from old Indiana high school teams. And to top it all off, the practice facility is attached and fans are allowed in to watch (free of charge) when the arena's not in use for another event.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.
Matt Meltzer is a staff writer at Thrilist who's disappointed he couldn't make a joke about the Sleep Train Arena. Follow him on Instagram" @meltrez1.