The game we left behind at the Milwaukee Arena
This weekend I was talking to this guy who is an architect. He was describing the kind of structures he works on. Bored with his ramblings, all of a sudden I blurted out, "You ever think about how to improve the design of professional basketball arenas?"
He looked at me like I was some homeless guy who was asking him if he knew when the mother ship was due to arrive.
"Seriously," I said, "I'm not an architect but I've been obsessed with this issue for years. There has to be some way to design an arena so you can accommodate those goddamn sky boxes but still get the affordable seats a hell of a lot closer to the floor than they are at the Bradley Center."
This guy wondered why the topic ever even entered my mind. Well, as I told him, the reason is three fold.
First, I truly believe the NBA has lost a generation of fans by forcing the most affordable seats up near where Neil Armstrong walked. Its a disgrace, and its going to hurt the game in the long run.
Second, and almost more importantly, the advent of these pretty Centers the Association plays in now has wiped out a game I grew up loving: "Arena (and/or "Garden") Basketball".
Any Bucks fan who had the pleasure of seeing a game at the old Milwaukee Arena, or any Sixer fan who saw a game at the Spectrum, or any Laker fan who saw a game at the Forum, or certainly any Celtic fan who ever saw a game at the Garden knows what I mean. "Center basketball" -- as I call it-- is entirely different from the game they used to play at the old arenas. And I have to say its a lesser game too. No question about it.
I feel bad for any Bucks fan who never saw a Bucks game at the Milwaukee Arena. It was grimy and small and tacky and magnificent. I still remember my last game. Game Four of the 1987 NBA Eastern Conference Championship Series. The Bucks versus the Larry Bird Boston Celtics. The Bucks lost the game at the buzzer in double overtime when John Lucas missed one of his patented driving left handed acrobatic scoop shots (I just rewatched it on Youtube. My memory fails me. It wasn't a drive at all. It was Lucas -- but he missed a jump shot from right of the lane!! For twenty years I swore it was a driving layup! Its funny how you remember the emotions of an event but the details can become blurred). Despite the loss, it was an absolute Green and Red Arena classic and an NBA basketball game I will never forget (relive the thrilling ending for yourselves Antlerheads -- "You are there" with your friendly neighborhood Bucks Diary blogger in the crowd for the heartstopping action back in 1987).
Watching that game there that day... damn... it was like being part of a mob, not a crowd. Literally. It was sweaty, it was raw, it was visceral, it was loud -- holy shit, was it loud -- and it was so goddamn exciting. I'm not even kidding. I've never had any other sports experience that even comes close. And most of it was due to the building. Or rather, the seating structure. The great old "Middle Parquet" -- where the middle class could afford to go and watch a game. And see it.
I'm not trying to be one of those annoying idiots you see droning on about how great Ebbets Field was (when you know it probably sucked). The Milwaukee Arena was NOT the Taj Mahal. But it didn't want to be. It wanted to be what it was supposed to be... a gym. A place where guys played basketball... a place with huge theater lights in the seating area that turned off with a loud "POP" at the tip-off (God I miss that... it focused the crowd's attention on the court); A place where you could literally hear the percussion of basketballs all the way up to the top row. It was a place where basketball was meant to be played, I guess that's what I'm trying to say. Bucks fans all crowded on top of each other and on top of the players (at least that's what it felt like), and we scared the hell out of the opposition. And we won a hell of a lot of games. And had a hell of a lot of fun.
Now you've got the Bradley Center. Its like the Bucks moved from a honky tonk to a museum. Real fancy and nice looking, but what happened to the fun?
I remember my first game at the BC. I went with a busload of students. We were on an upper deck group plan. I still remember getting to my seat. I was horrified. I mean it. I was in the front row of the upper deck and it seemed as though I was watching the game from Waukesha. I thought something was wrong. I'm not kidding. I actually thought someone had made a mistake in the design that no one had caught. I didn't understand the economics of the game at that time. But I did know how to vote with my pocketbook. I didn't go to another Bucks game until I could afford to sit in the lower bowl.
But even sitting in the lower bowl, the experience isn't close to the old Arena. Like I said, it is different and it is much less fun... period. I miss the old Arena and I want it back. And I'm dreaming if I think I will ever get my wish.
But, if the Bucks ever do get a new facility, they would ought to at least consider the competitive advantages of design. No one ever mentions this, but you can almost trace the decline of the Bucks to their abandonment of the Arena. I'm not saying the crappy teams would suddenly have become great had they stayed they stayed in the Arena. That's stupid.
But there is no doubt the team enjoyed a home court advantage at the Arena that they no longer enjoy at the BC. Go back and look at the historical record. If you compare the teams home/road splits with the Association's splits generally, the Bucks teams that played at the Arena were, on average, approximately 10% better than expectation. By contrast, they have barely played to expectation at the BC (strangely, early in the life of the BC they were above expectation, then way below, then they leveled off. Its as though they were finding their collective comfort zone).
The explanation is plain. Architecture. Its been proven that the most significant home court advantages are enjoyed in the indoor sports of hockey and basketball, and its been shown that most of that can be credited to fan support (I went into detail about this issue last spring... I'll link to it tomorrow). It stands to reason that the more dramatic the "enclosed" effect, the more amplified the advantage.
If NBA owners would check their greed for just one second, they would realize this and commission a new, more arena like design for the next generation of basketball gyms. The first one to do so, I believe, will enjoy both a "Camden Yards" revenue advantage, and a significant home court advantage.
Herb Superb... why not you?