This is the fourth article of the Sports Fan Travel Guide series. In the first article, we covered the best destinations for baseball fans. The second article highlighted must-see locations for football fans. The third article explored the best hockey destinations.
With five seconds left in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, the Chicago Bulls’ legend Michael Jordan nailed a jumpshot to give his team an 87-86 lead over the Utah Jazz. This play led to the Bulls taking their sixth NBA championship in eight years.
You don’t have to work in sports to understand the rich history of the NBA. Stars like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Shaquille O’Neal, and Julius Erving are among the most celebrated athletes in the sports world.
One of the best ways to celebrate the NBA is by visiting these destinations:
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (Springfield, MA)
This hall of fame is named after James Naismith, a Canadian-American physician who invented basketball. After studying physical education at McGill University in Montreal, he moved to Massachusetts and started teaching at the International YMCA Training School.
The head of the department asked Naismith to create an indoor game to help manage a rowdy class that was stuck inside during the cold New England winters. Naismith carefully planned and wrote the rules, and the first game was played in December 1891.
Fast forward to 1959, when the hall of fame museum was opened. It currently hosts the 60 Days of Summer program, which includes 60 consecutive days of family-oriented interactive museum programming.
The basketball hall of fame is one of the most comprehensive ones. It doesn’t just honor professional players. Aside from international stars, it also includes American and International amateurs.
Madison Square Garden (New York City)
Everyone knows The Garden, even if they don’t work in sports or pay attention to the sports world. It is one of the most well-known venues in the world.
Located in Manhattan, this arena sits atop Pennsylvania Station, the busiest passenger transportation hub in the Western Hemisphere. The Garden opened in 1968, making it the second oldest arena in the NBA.
It’s also the second-busiest music arena in the world, based on ticket sales, and acts as the home to the New York Rangers of the NHL, the New York Liberty of the WNBA, and the New York Knicks.
The main reason basketball fans need to see this famous arena is because of the amazing NBA moments that happened on the Knicks’ home court. You can just imagine the energy when Willis Reed and Walt Frazier led the Knicks to their 1970 championship in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Another unforgettable run came during Patrick Ewing’s high point in his 15-year career, when he led the Knicks to the 1994 NBA Finals. He tipped in the game-winning shot against the Indiana Pacers to bring them to the Finals for the first time since 1973.
This is a great destination for Knicks fans, but it also appeals to all sports lovers.
Quicken Loans Arena (Cleveland, OH)
Cleveland sports teams didn’t have much to cheer about. Many people believed in the ‘Cleveland sports curse,’ a superstition that stems from the fact that every professional sports team in city failed to earn a championship in 52 years. When you do the math, that comes out to a 147-season championship drought.
Aside from the Cleveland Browns from the NFL, the Indians from the MLB, and the short-lived Barons in the NHL, major disappointment surrounded their basketball team — the Cavaliers.
This is where Lebron James comes in. Hailed as one of the best players in NBA history, James rose to stardom during the beginning of his career with the Cavs, from 2003 to 2010. Then, he went from hero to villain when he left Cleveland to join the Miami Heat, where he won back-to-back championships, from 2011 through 2013.
Despite being booed for leaving Cleveland, James opted out of his Miami contract and returned to his roots. He grew up and played in Akron, Ohio, so his true home team was always the Cavs.
At the time of his return, the Cavs compiled a league-worst 97–215 record in the four seasons following his departure. Then, he made history.
In the 2015-16 season, he led the Cavs to the Finals. After falling behind 3-1 against the Golden State Warriors and facing elimination, the Cavs rallied from behind, winning three games straight and taking the first championship for Cleveland in over five decades. They became the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3–1 series deficit to win the NBA Finals.
Their home court is a must-see. The ‘Q’ is the second-largest arena in the NBA, but most notably, it’s where one of the best modern athletes grew up and continues to play.
NBA Experience (Orlando – Opening in Summer 2019)
This top destination isn’t open yet, but come summer 2019, it will be a must-see. While there aren’t many details released about the establishment, it promises to be what Thomas Smith, the editorial content director of Disney Parks, calls “a one-of-a-kind destination featuring hands-on activities that put families and guests of all ages right in the middle of NBA game action.”
Plans to build the NBA Experience were announced in 2015 and at the end of 2017, construction began. Disney released a first look at the concept art and design of the NBA Experience, followed by some vague details about the features within the ticketed experience.
On the first floor, visitors can enter the center court and explore exhibits, including the Locker Room, Hall of Champions, Hoop Sciences, and two virtual reality theaters. Plans also include a dining venue and retail shop.
The second floor includes experiences called the Pop-A-Shot, Dream Dunk, Big Shot, You Make the Call, and the Dream Court. Coming from the minds of Disney, this venue promises to be a unique, wild ride for basketball fans of all ages.