Monday, November 23, 2009

Indiana is Basketball, and Home to the Fieldhouse

(cross-posted from

First, let me disclose that 'Hoosiers' is one of my all-time favorite movies, and it easily beats out 'Teen Wolf' as my #1 basketball flick. I love both films for entirely different reasons, but I'm here to talk about 'Hoosiers' and Indiana basketball today. There's something about the innocence of the Midwest in the 1950's, the wide open corn fields and farmland that stretch to the edge of the horizon, and the makeshift basketball hoop that can still be seen on nearly every farmhouse in that area of the country even to this day. The awkward kissing scene between Gene Hackman and Barbara Hershey aside (I like to pretend that scene didn't happen), everything about 'Hoosiers' captures the beauty of the game of basketball in that era.

Now I'm no purist, but every once in a while amid the noise and distraction of today's NBA arena, I get a little sad that I didn't have the opportunity to attend a game back in those days. That's not to say I don't love the energy inside Quicken Loans Arena. But honestly, the next time you attend a game at the Q take a look around during a TV timeout and ask yourself if this is what Dr. Naismith envisioned back when he invented this beautiful game. Sometimes it is just a total sensory overload.

One of my favorite things about 'Hoosiers' is when Hickory makes it to the state title game and travels to Indianapolis and Butler University's Hinkle Fieldhouse. The wide open atmosphere and high curved roof are a signature throwback to those days that provided for a unique basketball experience. I had heard that the Pacers modeled their current venue, Conseco Fieldhouse, after the great Hinkle Fieldhouse. So when scanning the Cavs' road schedule before this season, one game immediately stood out: Cavs @ Pacers, November 20th, 7:00pm. Count me in.

My wife and I decided to make the 4-1/2 hour drive from the southwest suburbs of Cleveland to Indianapolis on Friday morning. Usually we opt to fly on any trip we can't make by car in a couple hours, but this time I'm glad we decided to drive. We lucked out with beautiful sunny weather for almost the entire drive to Indy and back. It may sound corny, but the farmland in southern Ohio and Indiana is strangely calming to see this time of year. And those makeshift hoops were everywhere in Indiana, dotting the landscape all along I-70 once we entered the Hoosier state.

We made it into Indianapolis around 3:00pm on Friday and checked into our hotel, the Omni Severin (secured on Priceline for a mere $60, taxes included). The hotel is right in the heart of the city, sandwiched between Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the Colts) and Conseco Fieldhouse. We were able to get dinner and some pre-game drinks at an Irish pub a short walk from our hotel. Everything was reasonably priced and there were plenty of other bars and restaurants to choose from.

The real jewel of this road trip came when we finally entered Conseco Fieldhouse (we snagged $85 tickets on StubHub in Section 119 for $69 apiece - click for a view). The place was even better than we could have expected. It is a perfect blend of old and new. From the curved, high open roof to the brick architecture in the main concourse and inside the arena. There are throwback touches like hand-hung signs showing the Pacers next opponent and an analog clock on the main scoreboard. There are modern conveniences like a Starbucks and a large open team shop (unlike the cramped one at the Q) where you can purchase an authentic Larry Bird Celtics jersey.

The game itself almost seemed secondary for a while, until the Cavs again blew a nice lead and found themselves in a 10-point hole late in the third quarter. That's when the nutty fan Cleveland in me thought that this particular trip would end up being a waste. Luckily the Cavs remembered to play defense in the 4th and cruised to a 105-95 victory, holding the Pacers to just 13 points on 4-of-14 shooting in the final period. "MVP" chants for LeBron's 40-point performance could be clearly heard as disappointed Pacers fans filed out. We were completely decked out in Cavs gear but I didn't hear a derogatory comment flung in our direction the entire evening. Overall the atmosphere seemed surprisingly family-oriented and much less alcohol-fueled than Cleveland, but perhaps that was just where we were sitting.

To cap our Conseco experience off, the club-level seats we were in happened to be on the same level as the corporate suites. After the game my wife and I and some random drunk dude from Cincinnati (also a Cavs fan) wandered into one of the empty suites and enjoyed some free beers and food courtesy of "Apparatus," which I'm guessing is some local Indy company. Thanks Apparatus! The only downer on the evening was hitting the downtown bars after leaving Conseco and finding that it is still the 1950's there too - you're allowed to smoke inside. That's one throwback aspect of Indiana that I wasn't particularly fond of.

All in all, our first Cavs road trip was a sparkling success. Conseco Fieldhouse is basically a shrine to all things that are Indiana basketball and a trip there makes it easy to see why it is consistently rated as the #1 venue in the NBA. The Cavs return there again on Friday, January 29th... if you're looking for a relatively inexpensive, hassle-free, and enjoyable sports experience, do yourself a favor and make it a road trip too. You won't be disappointed.