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Official Review by Phil DeGuglielmo, Stadium Journey Guest Correspondent
The Maui Invitational is an annual three day college basketball tournament held at the Lahaina Civic Center in beautiful Maui. The 8-team tournament is held the three days prior to Thanksgiving with each team playing three games. Starting in 1984, the tournament has played host to major college basketball programs who come for early season tests for their teams and warm weather on the beach. Fans flock to Maui each year for some fun in the sun, but to also take in some basketball at this unique and intimate venue.
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As you walk from your car towards the Lahaina Civic Center, you are met with several tents of food and beverage options with proceeds going to local non-profits. Most offer a limited menu- pizza, hot dogs, burgers, candy, and bottled water/soda at a fair price. The food is average at best but the price is reasonable and the money goes to a good cause.
Alcoholic beverages are available for purchase in a small beer garden section; however you cannot enter the Lahaina Civic Center with one. The Maui Invitational also sells tickets to the Stadium Club, which is a large shaded tent featuring live music, numerous televisions showing live action of the games inside, as well as complimentary food and non-alcoholic beverages (alcoholic beverages are available for purchase).
There are no food options inside the gym, but you are given a wristband to leave and re-enter if you want to eat during the action. The only beverage option that appeared to be available inside was your classic high school gym water fountain, so plan accordingly.
The atmosphere for the Maui Invitational is refreshing for a basketball fan. After watching games in large arenas and cavernous domes, I appreciated being right on top of the action inside the Lahaina Civic Center. With a max seating capacity of 2,400, you feel as though you are watching a game at your local high school with the fans banging their feet on the stands to make noise, the basic scoreboard, and the general admission seating. It seemed impossible for fans not be focused on the action since the size, speed, and athleticism of the players is right in front of your eyes.
The Lahaina Civic Center is located along the side of Honoapiilani Highway. There is a beautiful mountainside on one side and a view of the ocean to the other side. There are no bars or restaurants within immediate walking distance but if you drive 5-10 minutes, you can be in the heart of Lahaina or back at a resort. There are several bar and restaurant options along walkable Front Street in Lahaina including Fleetwood's on Front St, Lahaina Fish Company, and Captain Jack's Island Grill.
The mix of fans at the Maui Invitational is unique with the majority of them being tourists from all around the country. Somewhat similar to a conference tournament or NCAA regional, fans and alumni from each school descend upon the venue wearing their respective colors and tend to flock together. However, it is an early season tournament where there are no long standing rivalries or win or go home scenarios. Although it lacks postseason intensity and everyone is relaxed while enjoying a vacation in Hawaii, the natural instincts of being a fan kicks in for most. Fans cheer their teams on, sing fight songs, and yell at the refs like they would normally do. Although some tend to be blind homers of their school, the majority of fans have a very good understanding of the game.
The Lahaina Civic Center is located in West Maui along scenic Honoapiilani Highway. It's an easy drive from the resort areas in Kapalua, Kaanapali, and Wailea. Parking is available for $10 in an unpaved lot next to the gym. Bathrooms are available outside near the food tents, as well as inside the gym but are what you would expect for a venue that hosts one major tournament a year.
Tickets to the Maui Invitational are on the expensive side for an early season college basketball tournament in November. However, it is Hawaii and every seat is right on top of the action. Prior to the tournament, tickets are offered in three ways: an all day package for four games ($225), a school specific package for tickets to each of the three games for your school ($350), or a package for access to every game of the tournament ($675). Depending on your schedule, obsession with college basketball and beach plans, you can choose between the three options. Individual game tickets were available for purchase on the day of the game, but it likely changes year to year based on matchups and how well each fan base travels.
The annual tournament is held on one of the best islands in the world, and there really isn't anything else like it. It's not often that you can take a walk on the beach in the morning, watch top college basketball programs play in a small gym in the afternoon, and then have dinner with an incredible sunset. If you love college basketball and the beach, this tournament is for you.
It's a very fun and relaxed atmosphere. Almost everyone there is on vacation and from different parts of the country so people share their experiences and stories with their fellow college basketball fans.
The organizers of the Maui Invitational do a good job of providing a history of the tournament but also look to the future. While there, they announced the field of teams that will be competing two years from now.
The weather during our trip in 2013 was beautiful. It was sunny every single day with temperatures reaching the high 70s and low 80s during the day. If you live in a cold weather city on the mainland and are looking for an escape, this is highly recommended.
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744 Front St
Lahaina, HI 96761
831 Front St
Lahaina, HI 96761
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