[This an entry for Nate Jones' excellent NBA Stadium Day project. Go over there and check out all the fun memories from around the nation.]
The physical nature of ARCO Arena leaves a lot to be desired. The parking lot is beyond atrocious: sprawling, expensive, circuitous, filled with compact spots. And there are no other real parking options because ... the location of the arena is basically the middle of nowhere. Carl has joked you can park outside the lots and play Frogger with four lanes of drunk-drivers exiting at 10 p.m. if you have a deathwish. Most of us don't.
There are no public transit options, and no good place besides borderline dangerous shopping centers to organize rideshares. Until the last two seasons, getting a cheap ticket was almost impossible: the vaunted $10 seats sold quickly, the $25 sections didn't lag far behind, and the next step is $40+. Unless you're diligent, lucky, or buying on eBay/Stubhub/Truxel Road -- you're spending $100+ on a game.
The seats are mediocre. The aesthetics of the building are pitiful. The landscape is dire. The concourse smells bad. The food is hit-or-miss (for the standard fare). The pro shop is cramped. The "other" scoreboards (the one which shows assists, etc, and the ones which show the time and other scores) are in bad spots.
The handouts and prizes usually suck (though sometimes they're good). Since the team has gone downhill, the in-game entertainment has lacked spirit. (Big Mike needs a hug.) The player intros lack spectacle (through no fault of Scott Moak, who growls with the best of them). The halftime shows can be truly, insultingly awful. The pregame "celebs" make my ears bleed (unless it's Pedroia or Gulbis).
It's a bad, bad arena.
But then you're rooting for one of the worst teams in the conference, getting smoked by 21 points in the third by the worst team in the league, and that crowd leads a viciously quick comeback in the span of six minutes. The fans -- every one of which can see the play like it's on a 55" LCD two feet away because of the amazing sightlines -- storm the soundwaves to implore their Kings to rock and roll and win when absolutely nothing but a moment's glee is at stake.
It's the fourth quarter, and some goofy, headband-wearing Biblical lion on rollerblades tells you to MAKE NOISE. Half the gym's empty. It's March. It would take an asteroid for anyone at ESPN to notice, win or lose. The result doesn't matter one tiny bit. To anyone.
Every single fan stomps the floor. All the kids clap to an invented beat. Sign Guy spins 'round and takes out a vendor. The bad-ass hecklers in the third row rip the ref to shreds for mistakes never made. The 13th man of the moment (Lorenzen Wright) soaks in the moment, looking around at the bizarre celebration of nothing. The thunderous echo threatens to break ARCO at its seams. No one's a skeptic. No one's too cool to cheer. No one's on their ass. Everyone cares.
In a cynical, laissez-faire world, it's a jolt of fresh energy. And squeezing our way to the exits, we'll lose the connection. Shoving out of the parking lot, we'll have no friends. It's all a moment -- the success, excitement, anxiety, thrill, agony, bloodlust, ecstacy. It's gone the second victory or defeat has been assured. And ARCO becomes a dumpy wasteland of sticky concrete, wasted six-year-olds and musk.
But we have that moment, replicated 82 moments a year. Some buildings -- sparkling new with a light rail stop at the entrance, immaculate seats and a sumptuous menu -- they don't get those moments every night. Not to disparage other fans, but ... in many cities, a meaningless game is a meaningless game. A 28-40 record means no cheering, no passion. A blowout quiets the crowd. A double-digit lead sends them home at the end of the third. That moment doesn't really matter.
Maybe it's the decade of losing, maybe it's the small-town feel inside the building and the shoebox, college-style atmosphere. Maybe it's Joe Kleine. All I know is that -- amenities and comfort be damned -- if I'm watching a ballgame, I want to be inside ARCO Arena. The place has magic.