Chicago

As part of our NBA road trip in February we flew in to Chicago and took in one game before heading off to the next state. We then ended our trip back in Chicago so that we could take in NBA All Star.

We have been to the United Center before, but the first night of our trip was the first time we had driven to the venue. We went there straight from the airport which meant that we got there not long after doors opened, so the traffic wasn’t too bad at that time. We were able to park really quickly and managed to get a spot that allowed for relatively easy exit. The parking lot was just a short walk to the venue (which I really appreciated in the cold Chicago winter). We got dinner in the venue, but we weren’t too hungry as we had been eating on the plane. We opted for walking tacos (pictured below), mainly because we had never heard of that before. It’s basically a packet of chips (crisps in the UK) with taco filling.

The United Center is a nice venue, which a strong history. Having been there a few times I don’t think there are any really bad seats in terms of view, but the first row of the upper bowl are possibly the least good for view as you have a barrier in front of you. However, it didn’t impact too much of my enjoyment of the game.

Getting out of the car pack after the game was quick, but getting back to the Interstate took a while due to the volume of cars all leaving at once.

When we returned to Chicago for All Star  we did not have a car so we used public transport to get to the United Center. There is a bus that runs on game days from downtown to the venue. This is an efficient way of getting to the game, but it can mean hanging around for a while to get the bus in Downtown and then when you leave the game there is a rush for the buses and the buses are all packed.

We decided this time to use the ‘L’. We had a choice of two destination stations and on a normal day I don’t think there is much in it, however for All Star there was increased security around the venue meaning that we had quite a long walk from the Illinois Medical District stop on the first night. After that we used Ashland and found it much easier. The United Center has dedicated pick up/drop off points for Uber/Lyft services making it easier to use them as well.

One of the reasons I was looking forward to this All Star is because I love Chicago. Chicago in winter is really cold, so you do need to make sure you take layers and you might want to limit how much time you are outside. However, the transit system is easy to use and relatively frequent so you can easily get around the city.

One thing that is a must do in Chicago is to get authentic Chicago pizza. We usually go to Gino’s East but this time we decided to check out Giordanos. Be warned, this chain gets really busy so you should expect to wait to be seated. However, they will let you order while you wait to reduce the time you will wait once at the table. All their pizzas are made to order and you should expect about a 40 minute wait between ordering and receiving the pizza. Pizza in Chicago is on a different scale, so two people can share a small and you might still struggle.

My top three things to do in Chicago are – go to Navy Pier, check out the view from 360 Chicago (and try Tilt if you are brave enough – where you are tilted toward the ground from 1030 feet up) and Lincoln Park Zoo. But if you go during baseball season you need to go to Wrigley Field!

Minneapolis

We attended an ice hockey game and a basketball game while staying in Minneapolis. The NHL team are actually based in St. Paul which means they don’t play in the same venue as the NBA team.

The Target Center

If you are staying in Minneapolis or St Paul you can easily get the bus or the tram between the two. You can also take the trip out to the Mall of America and you could easily spend a day there before a game. I’m not a huge shopping fan so we decided to take advantage of the fact that we had a car and head out of the city for the day. We drive around some of the lakes that are just outside Minneapolis and stopped in a couple of the towns. Given the February weather the lakes were frozen.

Frozen lake

We actually chose to stay in an AirBnB rather than a hotel while in Minneapolis. This was mainly a budget thing as hotels in Minneapolis were really expensive when we looked. The AirBnB has the added bonus of providing free off-street parking.

We knew that we were within a 25-30 walk of the Target Center. As the weather was so cold we looked into using the SkyWalk. For our journey to the venue we were only able to use the SkyWalk part of the way as we went for dinner beforehand and the quickest way from our accommodation to the restaurant was not using the SkyWalk. However when we left the restaurant we were easily able to use Skywalk to get to the venue without going outside.

This gave us confidence to use the SkyWalk when we left the game. Unfortunately about half way along we were met with a locked door. This was pretty frustrating as the locked door had opening hours listed on it, and the listed hours showed it should still be open. This resulted in us having to leave the SkyWalk and walk about 15 mins in -17 Celsius. Lesson learned don’t rely on the listed hours.

We could have used the bus to get the game and in theory we could have used the tram but the walk involved in getting to the tram meant it was not really an option (as it ended up being a longer option).

Block 214, row M

We sat in the upper bowl for this game. I was not very impressed with the seats. While they were padded and fairly comfortable, I had to sit at an angle in order to see the court properly. I found this really uncomfortable as the game went on, this definitely affected my enjoyment of the game. I had to twist a little to see the jumbotron as well so it wasn’t as though I could rely on that.

It felt like the venue wasn’t really designed for basketball. Though I’m sure if I was in one of the blocks at end line or along the sidelines, I would not have had an issue with the seat angle.

Milwaukee

Fiserv Forum

We drove from Detroit to Milwaukee so when picking a hotel we were looking at options with parking. Milwaukee does have many parking garages so you don’t need to limit yourself to hotels with parking. We choose the Brewhouse Inn and Suites. It’s a hotel in an old brewery building and the conversion was really well done. The hotel has a pub attached so you can get food/drinks without having to leave the building. We found out that the pub offers a shuttle bus to the Fiserv Forum. As the Forum is only a 10 min walk a shuttle isn’t really necessary but this would be useful if you had mobility issues or if the weather was really bad.

We had a full day in Milwaukee so we decided to get out of the city and go to the Jelly Belly factory for the free tour. You definitely need a car to do this trip but it’s worth it for the free samples.

We also went to the Mars Cheese place. It’s basically a supermarket with a heavy cheese theme but it also has a medieval castle theme. It’s a bit weird but good for a visit if you like cheese.

The Fiserv Forum is in the centre of Milwaukee so if you are staying downtown you will be able to walk from your hotel. If you are staying slightly further out you will need to get the bus or you can drive in and park in one of the many lots near by.

Milwaukee has a wide range of places to get food – if you like bratwurst this is the town for you. We did eat before going to the venue (in the hotel restaurant which seemed to be a popular choice).

Block 109

We sat in the lower bowl for this game. I was actually surprised by how cheap the tickets were. The seats were comfortable and this was a good view on to the court. There wasn’t much we couldn’t see and the jumbotron ( and screens around the upper level) helped with that while providing stats. I particularly liked the hustle board.

This is one of the newer venues in the NBA and it definitely shows when you are inside.

Detroit

Little Caesar’s Arena

We drove into Detroit and stayed at The Siren hotel. Now that the Detroit venue has moved to Little Caesar’s Arena (from The Palace At Auburn Hills) it is easier to stay in the downtown area and get to the game. There are many hotel options in Detroit. We picked ours based on proximity to the venue and ability to park the car. We ended up using the valet parking, this was entirely due to the weather as we didn’t want to have to move the bags any distance in the cold and snow but we could have easily parked within a couple of blocks of the hotel.

We arrived in Detroit the day before the game because we wanted to explore Detroit. On the first night we went to Cafe D’Mongos Speakeasy. It’s a small bar but the staff, and the regulars, are all really friendly and the cocktails are strong. We also went for dinner in Grand Trunk Pub which is a converted railway station. The have a good sized menu and the portion sizes are also good.

On our full day in Detroit we took a ride on the people mover (Detroit’s monorail). This was mainly for the novelty value but it was a good, cheap way to see Detroit. Importantly it was heated which was really appreciated in February in Detroit. We also went to the Motown Museum. If you are interested in Motown music, this is a must see. Apparently there are building an extension, I felt our tour was really comprehensive so I’m not sure what else they will cover. All tours are guided and I would recommend booking in advance as there isn’t really anything else to do in that area if you just miss a tour time.

Little Caesar’s Arena is on the street car system so you can use that to access the venue or you can walk if your hotel is close enough, as ours was. There are several restaurants on the outskirts of the venue providing a wide range of options. The arena is only about a 10-15 walk from the downtown area so you should also have gone to eat there before or after the game.

As it was Knicks v Pistons we decided to sit a little closer to the front than normal.

Row 4, block 125

I thought these seats were great. We were close to the bench so got to witness the team dynamics but were still able to enjoy the game even when the team all stood up. The seats were comfortable and padded. There is no at seat service so you do have to go to the concessions if you want anything but you would be doing that from any seat.

Jumbotron

The jumbotron lived up to its name, providing clear stats. I liked that the inside of the screens also showed information so that you could see the stats from wherever you were sat.

NBA Road Trip 2020

It’s that time of year again when we go on a basketball road trip to coincide with NBA All Star. This year we flew into Chicago and picked up a hire car. We did stay in each of the cities where we watched games so I will be able to explain different options for getting to the game if you are in the city.

All NBA Venues have parking next to or near the arena so you can always drive to the venue. We have done this a couple of times, but only because we were getting back on the interstate straight after the game. If you are staying locally I would not recommend driving as the wait to clear the parking lot, or the immediate surrounds will add to your journey time and I’m certain that other methods of transport will be quicker.

I’ve been to about 19 NBA venues now. To date they have all had ample restrooms and a good range of places to get food and drink. Although the options will vary based on regional preferences you will be able to get soda, beer, spirits, hotdogs, burgers, a chicken option and popcorn. I’m not going to keep pointing this out in every review but I will say if there is anything of particular interest at a venue.

There will be a few blogs coming up covering Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Chicago. I’ve changed the style of the blog so let me know what you think.

Sheffield Sharks – Ponds Forge

After having a bit of a break from travelling to see basketball (not entirely through choice more as a result of other demands on my time), today I went to my first road game of 2020.

The London Lions were playing against the Sheffield Sharks at Ponds Forge. Sheffield is a relatively easy drive up from London so we decided to drive up the night before the game which allowed us to go walking in the Peak District before the game.

Ponds Forge has a large car park attached and is easily accessed if you come up by train (as a couple of our group did). We didn’t actually use the venue car park as we had parked in town to go for lunch and decided to walk the 15 mins venue rather than move the car.

The venue is nutlike function but the Sheffield Sharks logo is painted on the door that leads to the court. Once through the door there is a stall for ticket sales, a merchandise stall and some volunteers scanning tickets.

At Sheffield the seats are all on one side of the court. I think this layout works in smaller venues as trying to spread the crowd out on different sides of the court can affect the atmosphere as it is difficult for the crowd to create the same level of noise.

The seats at Ponds Forge all have backs, always a plus. They are hard plastic so not the most comfortable but that’s typical in BBL venues.

At every time out and quarter break the Sharks had some entertainment lined up. This appeared to be children from a local dance troupe. As we were siting behind the Lions bench my view was usually blocked by basketball players but the crowd seemed to enjoy it.

I would have preferred a bit less music during the game but I know not everyone agrees with me on that.

Overall I liked this venue and found it easy to get to (and get home from).

Melo’s back

Carmelo Anthony returned to the NBA this week, after about a year of not playing. Melo, despite his talent has not had the success he wanted in the NBA.

He did not manage repeated, deep play-off runs with the New York Knicks. Something which, for many, was just another reason to be annoyed at the trade that brought Melo to the Knicks. A trade that Melo himself forced.

Looking back, it is easy to imagine that if the Knicks had managed to win a championship while Melo was there, that trade would be considered in a very different light. However, Melo was only one party in that trade, and only one player on a team. So it has always stuck me as harsh to lay all the blame, if blame is to be laid, at Melo’s feet.

Since leaving the Knicks, Melo has had one disappointing season at Oklahoma City Thunder (where the trio of Paul George, Russell Westbrook and Melo spectacularly failed to set the league alight) and then an odd couple of weeks with the Houston Rockets (where he was clearly not performing as expected). Since then he has not played professional basketball, until this week.

I never understood the move to Houston given his history with the Houston coach so I wasn’t surprised that the Houston/Melo experiment didn’t work. I was surprised that he then spent so long without a contract. I am not privy to all the ‘insider’ rumours of the NBA but I can only assume that there were some rumours about Melo being difficult/demanding which combined with the underwhelming stat lines (from OKC and Houston) to make him an unattractive prospect. Even the Team USA Basketball World Cup team didn’t want Melo (though given their performance at this year’s World Cup they may be regretting that).

So why have Portland taken the chance on him? Well it is a non-guaranteed contract so this can be a short term experiment if they want. Plus he is a NBA vet, with experience of international games, who can still ball. In his two games so far with Portland he has averaged 26 mins, 14 points and 5.5 rebounds. This is a small sample size, but it’s not far off his career rebound average (6.5) and while it is a way off his career average points (24) it’s not bad for someone who has had such a career break.

Will this stint in Portland help to redeem Melo? Will he finally get the ring he craves? Realistically I don’t think that Portland are going to win a ring this year but if Melo can stay with Portland until the end of the season, and they can have a deep play-off run Melo might be on the road to redemption.

 

The 19/20 season Knicks

Spoiler Warning. If you aren’t up to date with the Knicks this season, stop reading.

No seriously stop reading.

Still here? Okay.

The Knicks front office held a press conference following Sunday night’s game. I haven’t been able to see the whole thing but I’ve caught the highlights. They seem to have stopped themselves from suggesting that personnel changes need to be made but already the press are speculating that this could happen during the season.

I still don’t understand why they called the press conference. No-one who was paying attention should have been expecting an amazingly good start to the season for the Knicks. During the off season we didn’t pick up any of the big name free agents but we did bring in several new players. Players that need time to build chemistry and get used to playing together. Making more changes now (to players or coaches) will just introduce more new elements rather than allowing the current elements time to get it together.

Sunday’s game was not a good result. But not the worst result in the NBA this season (for example, the Hornets Celtics game earlier in the weekend had the same score). The Knicks don’t have a great win/loss this season. But they aren’t alone at the bottom of the table. The Golden State Warriors are right beside them with the same win/loss.

So again, why the press conference? Holding a press conference tells me that Steve Mills and Scott Perry are taking this seriously but did they seriously expect anything different? This feels like a way to respond to people who have unrealistic expectations. Perhaps they (Mills and Perry) also have unrealistic expectations.

Do I wish the Knicks were playing better? Yes.

Do I think constantly moaning about it and expecting greatness of them at all times is helpful? No.

Instead of holding these kind of press conferences the Knicks should look at how they deal with the unrealistic expectations and show faith in the team. They should look at building a team culture that results in players wanting to come to New York and help build something positive.

BBL on YouTube

For the 2019/20 season the British Basketball League (BBL) are broadcasting games live on YouTube. For the last few seasons they were using LiveBasketball so I was interested to see if the service improved with YouTube.

I decided that I would watch a London Lions game on YouTube as I am a Lions fan. Unfortunately my first attempt at this did not work as there were technical issues which prevented live streaming on the day I had planned to watch.

The first, and most obvious, difference is that the YouTube service is free whereas fans had to pay for the previous service. Now I happily pay for NBA League Pass every year so I am not against paying for a service to watch BBL games. However, the subscription BBL service never really felt worth it as you could only watch games live, there were frequent technical issues and often the commentators didn’t even know the players names.

With a free service I won’t find technical issues or low quality commentary as annoying.

Today was my first BBL YouTube game and I was pleasantly surprised. The stream was constant all game, the commentary was good and the on screen graphics were a big improvement on the previous service. Throughout the game I could see the score, after each basket they showed the name of the player who scored and their stats, I could monitor the foul count each quarter and at half time I was shown game stats.

I really appreciated that as it’s exactly the kind of data I expect to see in the venue and the fact that it was provided on a free stream of the game made it even better.

Overall I think the move to YouTube was a good idea and I hope the BBL can keep this up.

FIBA World Cup 2019

The FIBA World Cup has just completed in China. It ran for 17 days and was held in 8 locations across China.

Basketball seems to be a growing market in China and presumably there was a belief that holding the World Cup in China would increase that market.

I went out to China and attended games in three locations – Wuhan, Shanghai and Beijing. I frequently spoke to local people who had no idea that the World Cup was on or that it was being held in China. I did see billboards, adverts at bus stops and adverts in airports and train stations. It was clear that a lot of money had been spent to promote the competition in China but it didn’t seem to generate a lot of interest in China. None of the games I attended were sold out.

I only attended games later in the competition so I don’t know if the earlier games (where the competing teams were known well in advance) were busier. When I booked my tickets I did not know which teams I would get to see but I knew that to get to the later stages the teams would have to have played well and so they would be good. I was going to the World Cup to see good basketball but I can understand that if you wanted to see only a particular country the later games would have seemed like a risk. it can be difficult to arrange travel and accommodation while in China due to the internet restrictions and with visas to take in to account there are many reasons that may have led to reduced foreign attendees.

It’s always disappointing when big competitions are not sold out as full venues lead to a better atmosphere. Atmosphere was lacking in most of the games I attended due to the limited number of country specific fans.

Posts on each of the venues and games will follow.