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The San Antonio Spurs might hold the record for shortest time playing in a new facility as they spent just nine seasons in the Alamodome, a cavernous facility that always made their home games seem poorly attended, even when they had over 30,000 for some playoff games. They first played there in 1993, but within a few years, the club wanted to move to a more intimate facility. In 2000, an agreement was reached to build a new arena for basketball, hockey, and the annual rodeo. Located a few miles east of downtown, the SBC Center was opened in 2002. When SBC bought AT&T three years later, the name of the arena was changed and it is now one of several venues that uses this corporate sponsor, including the ballpark in San Francisco and the football complex in Dallas.
The Spurs are perhaps the most understated team in NBA history, having quietly won four championships since 1999 with Tim Duncan, the least controversial star the league has ever seen. Fortunately for fans, their arena is similar in many respects: clean, smartly designed, and doing things the right way. If there were a championship for best venue in the league, it would be hard to top the AT&T Center.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Despite having a wide variety of quality offerings, the Spurs added several new eclectic options for the 2013-14 season. My favorite is "The Big Cheese" at section 112, a small stand serving thick grilled cheese sandwiches. You have five options, including the Plain Jane (3 types of cheese only) and the B.T. Cheese (the Plain Jane along with bacon and tomato). All are freshly made while you wait, so get there as soon as the gates open if you can as the line forms quickly. At $7.75, it is not cheap, but it is very good and should last you the whole game.
Continue to walk around the plaza level and be amazed by the assortment here. The Daq Shack behind section 122 is a full-service Caribbean-themed bar that includes frozen cocktails that are very popular. Even hot dogs are given special treatment here, with Top Dog offering five varieties at $6.50 each, including the New York City dog with grilled sauerkraut and spicy mustard. Try the Smokehouse BBQ for a Texas Cheese Steak for $8.75, or a Blue Plate Special (sliced brisket, with hot link, beans, and slaw) for $9.75.
Of course, there are dozens of Mexican options, as San Antonio has a large Hispanic population. Fiesta Favorites, Taco Cabana, and Tortas are three stands that have a wide assortment of your Mexican staples. If you prefer the tried and true, Whataburger offerings start at $5.75 and there is also Pizza Hut with personal pizzas at $6.75. Upstairs is the HEB Fan Zone, which has some BBQ sandwiches that come with some standing tables overlooking the court below.
Draft beer is $7 and a souvenir suds will set you back $8.50. For those driving, sign up for the designated driver program for a free small soda, or try a large for $4.25. Souvenir cups are $7 and bottomless.
All in all, AT&T Center has some of the best food options I have seen, so much so that you shouldn't have to resort to the usual. Get there early and hungry, and explore both concourses before making your choice.
Make sure to enter by the main lobby on the east side of the building and pay homage to the four NBA Championship trophies on the left. The display includes newspapers from the day after each title, and it sets the mood for what you are about to see - one of the most successful small-market franchises in professional sports.
Now walk around the concourses and be surprised at just how colorful the place is. Pastel green, orange, yellow, and blue are everywhere. It is in complete contrast to the Spurs, who have perhaps the blandest uniforms in all of sports. This color applies to the concession stands, which are brightly lit, and there are works of art including a couple of colorful baskets near one escalator. Even the seating bowl has the occasional colored seat among the rows and rows of black.
The arena configuration is perfect for basketball, with the corner seats facing the court directly as the bowl is shaped like an octagon shape rather than the usual oval that you see at most mixed-used arenas. There is just one level of suites, and this keeps the upper close to the floor and makes a big difference as when the Spurs get rolling, the arena gets loud.
One interesting video segment is called "Snackwards" which shows fans eating, unaware they are being filmed. The catch? The film is then run backwards; it is weird (and not particularly appetizing) to see nachos and hot dogs emerge fully formed from someone's mouth.
The Silver Dancers are the cheerleaders and they were wearing chaps, a change from the usual skimpy clothing that you see around the league. No complaints there. Coyote is the mascot and he leads the cheer team in t-shirt tosses and other games during the breaks in the action.
From the pre-game introduction to the final buzzer, there is plenty going on without it being too loud or intrusive, and the fans love it.
San Antonio is one of America's great tourist destinations, with the Alamo and Riverwalk about four miles east of the stadium, easily accessed by I-35 or Houston Street. With so much to see and do, you might need a couple of days, but either way the downtown area is a perfect pre-game destination. There are dozens of restaurants and bars here to suit all tastes, with some of our favorites listed in a sidebar.
There isn't much in the immediate vicinity of the stadium, a result of having to build a second venue in less than a decade. There is Crazy J's Sports Bar at the corner of AT&T Parkway and Gembler, which is very popular on Thursdays, when they provide catered food. Another nearby restaurant is Teran's, a Mexican breakfast and lunch spot that closes at 1:30 p.m. It doesn't work well with night games, but if you happen to attend a weekend afternoon game, this would be a great start, as their Huevos Rancheros are superb. It lies about a mile east at 4403 Houston Street.
I was surprised at Spurs fans, as I expected spoiled and obnoxious behavior after all those titles. Instead I found them to be happy, smiling, and very well behaved. There were dozens of families with infants and toddlers, and everyone got into the game, which went down to the wire. They were engaged throughout and made lots of noise when it mattered, actually causing the Spurs to commit a 24-second violation at a key point in the game.
One of the problems in sports these days is hype and overreaction. Fans emulate players who celebrate trivial accomplishments such as a dunk when down 10 points late in the game. The Spurs simply play basketball and win, and their fans follow suit, passionately following their team but maintaining a respect for the game and their fellow fans.
AT&T Center is located just three miles east of the downtown core along E. Houston Street. This can get a bit crowded, but traffic moves well enough. If you are coming from out of town, both I-35 and I-10 offer quick access to AT&T Center Parkway, which is where you will probably enter the lots. Prices range from $10-$15, but there are cheaper lots in the area if you don't mind driving around a bit. I did not see any free parking, and the area is not that good for pedestrians, so it is probably easiest to just park in one of the lots.
There are small jams leaving the arena, but the whole area is well marked and controlled by police officers, so you should get out within a few minutes. One thing to note is that you will be forced to travel north along AT&T Parkway if you exit lots along that street, which will take you to I-35. If you exit onto Houston Street, you will be turned west and head back to downtown, but you can quickly make a U-turn if you need to get to I-10.
As you approach the arena, the ticket lines are short and the ushers are very helpful and friendly. The restroom facilities are exceptionally clean just like the entire area, and there are never any lines. You'll also find a great diagram posted on a large flat screen TV just inside the main entrance area which shows an overlay of the arena seating sections. Also, there's a similar map posted on the concourse wall. This makes it pretty easy to identify where your section is within the arena and quickly make it to your seats.
Tickets start at $10, but if you think you can buy cheap and move around as you can at some other NBA arenas, think again. This is not because the ushers are checking tickets in the lower bowl (they are) but because fans show up regardless of the visiting team. I attended a Monday night game against a non-conference opponent with no rivalry and the place was essentially full in the lower level. I would recommend that you stay in the upper level, where seats max out at $55. It is so close to the floor that you are not getting value for moving down, and for me at least, it is better to sit center court in the upper deck than in the end zone in the lower deck.
The trophies, championship banners, and retired numbers merit an extra point, if not two. It is important to recognize greatness without being boastful, and that is how the Spurs act.
Look for the guitars from some notable concerts that were played here, including AC/DC, whose "Thunderstruck" is played during the pregame festivities.
The HEB Fan Zone has some basket shooting games that look to be fun for youngsters and the young-at-heart.
Another area is the Bud Light Courtyard, an indoor-outdoor space that sometimes offers post-game concerts.
One last point for the overall design of the arena. Whoever put this place together knew exactly what they were doing and new arena developers should visit here to find out how to create a mixed-use facility that caters to all types of fan.
Watching a San Antonio Spurs basketball game is one of the most enjoyable sports experiences out there. There is really nothing to complain about. You can see one of the best teams in the league, with one of the best players in the history of the game, with one of the best coaches, in one of the best venues in all of sports. All that after an afternoon in one of America's unsung cities. Simply put - if you haven't been here, you should go as soon as possible. Like now.
The AT&T Center's slogan, "something for everyone", rings true in many regards. Opened in 2002, it is a state-of-the-art facility that provides a variety of seating options to meet your needs, as well as an eclectic selection of concession stands that offer local San Antonio themed restaurants. The four-sided LED scoreboard above center court dazzles you with its replays and 10-pixel graphics. Team banners and retired jerseys drape the rafters briefing you on the history of the San Antonio Spurs.
The AT&T Center is a great place to watch a game and the arena really stands out for it's vibrant concourse and terrific food options. What really appealed to me was how the designers incorporated the feel of San Antonio in the concourse with festive RiverWalk design that had a lot of bright colors. The food is fantastic here with so many options and a lot of great Tex-Mex. There's also several dining options and the HEB FanZone (similar to a sports bar) is actually incorporated into the design of the interior as it overlooks the court. However, this also creates a bit of a negative appeal as I saw a lot of fans just hanging out here during the game instead of in their seats.
Despite being located in the city, it's kind of on the outskirts of downtown and the lack of neighborhood is disappointing, but it also allows for very easy access to the arena. Parking is abundant and simple and I didn't have any issues arriving or leaving.
The overall interior set-up is solid and the shape seems to be designed with a focus on basketball. Seats were also very comfortable and wide. Overall, AT&T Center and the Spurs provide a great NBA experience.
There are few sports venues worldwide which can put together the many pieces of the puzzle to make a perfect sports experience. When the AT&T Center hosts a San Antonio Spurs game, fans find out that that perfection is attainable. Whether it’s the immaculately clean arena (from seating areas, to concourse, to restrooms), the wide variety of concession items, or the passionate Spurs fanbase, there’s little doubt that your visit to the AT&T Center will be one of the best sporting experiences you’ve ever had.
There's no doubt about it, the AT&T Center is the best arena in the NBA. It doesn't matter where you sit or stand you will have a great view of the court. The Fan Zone & Bud Light court yard make the fan experience that more fun.
AT&T Center is definitely one of if not the best NBA arena. I believe it is the best with great sight lines, cheap ticket prices, a great area, San Antonio offers it all. As well you get to see one of the best teams in the NBA over the past 10 years.
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