The NBA D-League launched in 2001, with eight original teams. Unfortunately, none of the eight teams are still continuing to operate. The original southeastern blueprint has expanded to 16 teams spread out across the continental United States. There are teams from Portland, Maine to Los Angeles.
Some of the NBA D-League teams are affiliated with only one NBA franchise, while others share an affiliation with three NBA teams. One of the more interesting affiliations is the shared association of the Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, and Detroit Pistons. The team is the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. The team is named for the founder of the town, General Anthony Wayne, who was nicknamed "Mad" Anthony.
It feels like an especially fitting affiliate for the Detroit Pistons since that franchise originated in Fort Wayne, and actually won two NBA championships before moving to Motown in 1957. The Mad Ants are independently owned and play their home games in the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, a venue shared with the Fort Wayne Komets of the CHL, and the IPFW Mastodons college basketball team of the Summit League.
The style of play at an NBA Development League game is similar to what you would expect to see in the NBA, with the same rules, three point lines, and 24 second shot clock. The league seems to be growing, with over a million fans attending D-League games in the 2010-2011 season. The Mad Ants average about 2,500 fans per game, making the 13,000 seat Coliseum feel especially cavernous.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There were three concession stands open for a Thursday night contest at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. The two main concession stands offered standard food at reasonable prices. Hot dogs ($3.50), walking taco ($3.50), nachos ($4.75), mozzarella sticks ($5.75), and potato wedges ($3.50) were the highlights. I would recommend the walking taco if you don't mind the possibility of getting a little messy, or the potato wedges.
A better option would be a stop at the third concession stand, BBQ 58. Here you will find sandwiches of either smoked brisket, pulled pork, or pulled chicken ($7 each). You can also go for a platter option which includes coleslaw and chips ($9).
A beer will cost you $6 with the choice between Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Lite. Not exactly thrilling. Pepsi is the pop of choice. A souvenir cup size is $4, or you can grab a medium ($3.25) or small ($2.75).
The Mad Ants do their best to re-create an NBA-like atmosphere. Allen County War Memorial Coliseum is a cavernous place, with seats reaching high up from the floor, and a long horseshoe seating arrangement that moves the end seats a good distance from the court. This can make the usually small NBA Development League crowds seem even smaller.
You can expect the lights out introduction, and the game itself to be played with an NBA rhythm to it.
Seats have below average legroom and no cup holders. You can virtually pick anywhere you want to sit since there is so much open seating. My recommendation would be to aim for an odd numbered section so you can see both benches.
The real highlight of the atmosphere, outside of the game itself, is the Mad Ants mascot known simply as, The Mad Ant. He is one of the best mascots that I have seen, and does a wonderful job of injecting energy into the crowd, and works tirelessly to interact with all fans, and especially the kids.
The area immediately around the arena is mainly filled with chain type restaurants and strip malls. Ruby Tuesday and Hooter's are both within walking distance right across Parnell Avenue.
I have tried Hall's Restaurant, serving seafood and steaks in a slightly upscale, but family friendly atmosphere, and it is a good stop if you are looking for a place near the arena that isn't a national chain. On the night of my visit, the Mad Ants were taking on the Maine Red Claws, so I was kind of craving Red Lobster, which is also nearby.
My top recommendation however goes to Mad Anthony's Brewing Company. It is a few miles away from the arena, but they have great local beers and delicious bar food. I had a Cuban sandwich ($8) that I absolutely loved, and was still remembering days later.
There were some fans on hand who were pretty intensely into the game before them. Even the most ardent basketball fan may have trouble getting into D-League basketball, but these fans really seemed to know their players, and cheered for them throughout. I heard several fans making references to previous games, so there seems to be a solid base here. The fans are at a bit of a disadvantage because of the size of the arena. It sure didn't seem like there were over 2,000 fans in attendance, but the attendance was reported at over 2,200 for my visit.
The Allen County War Memorial Coliseum can be found just miles from I-69, and you shouldn't expect much of a delay entering or exiting the parking lot. Parking will cost you $4. It seems like an unnecessary fee, but it isn't within the team's discretion.
The building is very large, and there is ample room for walking around the concourse. Restrooms are a bit antiquated, but you shouldn't expect to see a line, even at halftime.
The Mad Ants choose to sell their tickets through Ticketmaster, so you know already that your admission is going to cost you more than it should with "convenience" fees and such. Courtside seats start at $41.25, although I have no idea why anyone would pay that much.
Your best bet is to get the cheapest seat possible (still $15.25) and aim for section 215 so you are at center court facing the benches. Even at that price it is more than it should be. You don't need to buy your tickets in advance, so save the fees and get your tickets when you arrive. You should have no problem getting the seat you want.
Tickets are overpriced, parking is overpriced, and food is priced about right. All in all, you will pay a little more than what makes sense when you go to a Mad Ants game.
One extra point to the Mad Ant, who truly makes this experience great for families. Another extra point to the cheerleaders, who do a good job of helping this feel as much like an NBA experience as possible.
Also worth mentioning is the program. It costs $2, but it very well done and worth the investment.
A trip to a Fort Wayne Mad Ants game is a worthwhile experience for basketball junkies and families with kids still young enough to be in absolute awe of a mascot who comes by to give a high five. Fort Wayne has the best minor league baseball park in Parkview Field, home of the Ft Wayne TinCaps, so if you are fortunate enough to be in town in April, you may even be able to catch a basketball/baseball doubleheader.
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