July 16, 2017

The Quest (Updated)

Nothing like starting a Wizards blog post with a picture of my bus passenger view from the TMZ Celebrity Tour of Los Angeles I took on a Wizards road trip. Tip for the unsuspecting: this tour is a laugh riot. I'd go if you have the time.

Two and a half years ago, I wrote a post on this blog detailing my plan to make it to all 29 NBA arenas and see a game live, hopefully with a focus on the Wizards as the road opponent. At the time I wrote that post, I'd sat in attendance at an NBA game at 15 of the 29 buildings (the Lakers and Clippers play in the same building; hence 30 teams but just 29 arenas). I've made some progress in the last 30 months or so. I figure it's time for a little update and then maybe some hopes for road trips in the current season.

Before we get to all that, let me say that a goal of attending an NBA game at every current arena in the Association is a little bit of a moving target. Buildings get replaced. I've seen an NBA game live in Charlotte, NC but in the old Charlotte Coliseum (which no longer exists) not the new-ish Spectrum Center downtown so I still need to get to Charlotte sometime. Keeping my results current could require me to take a trip each year a new spot opens if I really wanted to be obsessive about this. Not like someone with a blog devoted solely to being a Washington Wizards fan would ever get obsessed with this sort of a thing.

To hedge my bets a little here over the past couple of years, I've deliberately stayed away from attending Wizards road games against teams expecting a new building. That means I'm not making any extraordinary efforts to visit Oakland for a Warriors game any time soon; I'll just wait for them to move to San Francisco in a couple of years. Here's where I stand as of right now.

The East
Honestly, there's not a whole lot of change here. Since December of 2014, I've attended just one Wizards roadie against an Eastern Conference opponent when I saw them take on and beat the almost hopeless New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. But since I had seen a few Knicks games at the Garden way back when with my dad, I'm not actually adding a new arena, just checking the "Wizards Game" in my tracking sheets (shown above).

I did make some progress here in the non-Wizards category though. That progress is also shown in the tracking graphic above. I managed to take in most of the 2015 All-Star Weekend events in New York City, including the Rising Stars Challenge and All-Star Saturday Night at the Brooklyn Nets' Barclays Center. That means I've now seen NBA events in all five current arenas in the Atlantic Division. Add that number to the seven other current buildings I've visited in the East and I'm standing pretty good with 12 of the 15 covered. Still need to make it to Brooklyn for a Wizards game but I can check the box on the arena for now.

The West
When I wrote my first blog about this subject, my claims on conquering the West were pretty pathetic. I had only visited three of the NBA arenas (Dallas, Minnesota and Phoenix) in that conference and I'd only seen a Wizards game in one of those three (Minnesota). I've concentrated a bit more on getting this goal advanced since then.

In the Southwest Division, I've added the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans based on a trip to see the Wizards take on the hometown Pelicans in December 2015. I've also checked the box with the Los Angeles Clippers (twice) and Lakers with a quick weekend getaway in 2016 and a strategically timed work assignment this past spring. That gets my buildings total up to five and my "Wizards Game" total up from one to four. I'm showing my tracking sheet for the Southwest above and the Pacific below. I'm feeling pretty good about my progress here while acknowledging there's still a lot of work to do west and just a little bit east of the Mississippi River.

So what's next? Well, one of the most anticipated events in the NBA season for me is the annual schedule release. That's the day I get to see which road games are real possibilities for me to get on a plane and go see a new city or re-visit one I've already seen but just this time with a Wizards game on the agenda. The schedule matters because I'm much more inclined to get out of town for a road game on a weekend rather than mid-week. I'll take a Friday game every now and then but am not likely watching a Wednesday game in Utah. Here's my top five destinations this year.

1. Detroit
I have to admit, I have a soft spot for Detroit. I visited or drove through there a few times in the late 1980s when I was a student at the University of Michigan in nearby Ann Arbor, just about 45 miles to the west of the city. At that time, Detroit was ravaged by a combination of one of the worst pockets of the nation's crack cocaine epidemic combined with the flight of pretty much any kind of business from downtown. It made parts of the city into a dangerous and spooky wasteland and it was a place not to be visited unless you absolutely had to.

About the same time I was in school out in Michigan, the Detroit Pistons moved into the Palace of Auburn Hills, an arena more than 30 miles from the city the team was named after. This fall, the Pistons are back in Detroit in the brand new Little Caesars Arena. So too, apparently, is downtown Detroit. Since I left Michigan in 1990 the Detroit Tigers have built a new ballpark, the Lions have moved back to the city and the whole town has been generally revived. I'd love to see how much. Detroit is my number one hoops destination right now.

2. Memphis
I love Memphis. I was there 10 years ago and would love to go back. Any place that has live music playing at a whole bunch of clubs at once every night of the week is a great place to visit in my book. The FedEx Forum is within walking distance of Beale Street so staying downtown and moving straight from a Wizards win (see what a game 7 in the second round does to my optimism?) to some good blues is about a 10 minute walk. I've actually already been inside the Forum when I was there last. The team (which at that time was just miserable) hosted an open house to drum up new season ticket holders so they allowed you to walk around the locker rooms and weight rooms and play some hoops on the court. Not looking to do that again but I'd love to see a game in the Home of the Blues and Birthplace of Rock and Roll.

Taking in some live music in some New Orleans club on my 2015 Wizards road trip. Memphis up next?
3. Denver
If I'm making my conquest of the Western Conference a priority, I gotta have some cities west of the Mississippi on my list (Memphis is not; only just not, but not). I picked Denver for two simple reasons: it's easy to get to nonstop from both Dulles and National airports and I've been to both Denver and Houston (one other city that is easy to get to) and I like it better than Houston.  Denver's downtown is walkable, you can get to the Pepsi Center on foot or using public transportation and they have a ton of microbreweries there. Hey, what's a road trip without a little beer. As far as the West goes, Denver seems like the most fun low hanging fruit there is.

Of course now that I've dissed Houston, the odds are the only weekend game the Wizards will have in the central or mountain time zone will be Houston and I'll end up going.

4. Charlotte
The Queen City is on this list because it's the last place that I haven't seen a Wizards game in the Southeast Division and checking that box would mean that I've finally seen a Wizards game in all five arenas in one of the NBA's divisions. Yes, that's the division that I only have to make four trips (since the Wizards are one of the five teams) but it would still be nice to get that one completed. I like getting things completed. I have no idea what I'd do as a side trip in Charlotte, maybe hit the NASCAR Hall of Fame and find some BBQ joint? I'll figure something out if it comes to that.

Pecan Lodge, Dallas. Part of my 2013 D-League BBQ tour. Would be nice to get some in Charlotte too.
5. Sacramento
Just like Detroit, Sacramento's got a brand spanking new arena to play hoops in. And just like Detroit, I'd been holding off visiting until their new digs were complete which they were at the beginning of the 2016-2017 NBA season. However, very unlike Detroit, it's just not convenient to get to Sacto. It's going to be a long flight with then either a second flight or some driving. I'd consider Sacramento a long shot on this list unless there's (a) nothing else available on weekends (totally unlikely) or (b) I really feel like I need to make it to a game in Reno before the Kings pull their G-League affiliate closer to home base (also totally unlikely). Can't imagine I'm headed to Sacramento realistically until Golden State's new arena opens and I can visit both on one trip. Still, a guy can always dream.

I'm dying to make a dent in the quest. Can't wait for the schedule to be announced and the season to start. The schedule should drop in the first half of August and the season starts early this year on October 17. I'm hoping for an early or late season trip and I'm hoping one of the spots above is available. If not, I'll figure something else out. There's always plenty of G-League traveling to do...

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