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Official Review by Andrew Maurins, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
For one season apiece in the late 70s and early 80s, the Western Basketball Association and Continental Basketball Association each featured a semi-pro basketball team known as the Reno Bighorns. In 2008, the NBA Development League – minor league of the National Basketball Association – brought the team back as an affiliate of the Sacramento Kings. The parent team officially bought the club in October of 2016, and former Kings small forward Peja Stojakovic currently serves as their general manager.
Then, as now, their name was a nod to the bighorn sheep, Nevada’s state animal. Their colors of green, brown, blue and white are another homage to nearby Lake Tahoe. The team plays their home games at the 7,000-seat Reno Events Center downtown, and have made four postseason appearances in their still-short history. Along with the Big Sky Conference men’s and women’s basketball tournaments every March, the venue also hosts concerts, comedy acts and other similar events. Famous players to grace the REC in a Bighorns uniform include Jeremy Lin, Danny Green, Ray McCallum and Hassan Whiteside.
Current head coach Darrick Martin – himself a veteran of the old CBA – brings thirteen years of experience as a point guard with six NBA teams to the Biggest Little City. They aim to provide an NBA-like experience, albeit on a smaller scale and budget. Do they succeed?
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".
The food at a Bighorns game is adequate in selection and quality, and credit cards are accepted as payment. But the one concession stand open during games can get overwhelmed with long lines, bumping this rating down a star.
Fans have a choice of fairly standard concession items like chicken tenders with fries ($9), a cheeseburger ($7 alone or $9 with fries), garlic cheese bread, cheese fries, garlic fries, Nathan's hot dogs ($6), corn dogs, nachos, pretzels and popcorn ($5). A movable stand near the kid's zone also has snow cones ($4 for a small and $6 for a large), licorice ropes ($3), kettle corn ($5) and cotton candy ($5 for a small and $6 for a large). They're all fine enough, but they greatly lack a signature item that jumps off the menu. And when compared to the more diverse and higher quality fare at other area venues like Greater Nevada Field or Mackay Stadium, it's especially evident they could be much better.
Sodas are of the Coca-Cola family and fountain variety ($5 for a refillable cup), and include Coke, Diet Coke, Minute Maid Lemonade, Sprite, Barq's Root Beer and Dr. Pepper, as well as bottles of water ($4) and Powerade ($5). For adults, beer is sold at games ($8 cups of Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors and Coors Light), along with cocktails ($9 for a regular and $11 for a premium), wine by the glass, Mike's Hard Lemonade ($8), and 24-ounce aluminum cans, or "bombers," of Bud Light ($10), all of which are cut off at the end of the third quarter of each game. Like the food, greater variety at other area games makes their own lack of variety apparent.
We were partial to the garlic cheese bread on our visit.
A Bighorns home game is what you'd expect from a typical minor league sporting experience: active in its engagement with fans, but not overly serious in its approach.
The Reno Events Center has an attractive glass and steel exterior, and the majority of its seats are padded and fixed in place on sections that can retract as needed. They all have a decent amount of room and a clear view of the court, and the lack of cup holders is the only real complaint we can find. The club seats closest to the court - padded folding chairs - are separated from the hardwood by about 15 feet of walking space. Suites are located directly above the kid's zone at one end of the court, while the other end has table seats and a VIP area in a corner of the arena.
Bruno the Bighorn is the team's mascot, and his engagement with fans - particularly kids - is impressively fun to behold. Entertaining fans during timeouts are the Lady Bighorn dancers, a PA announcer brokering various giveaways, and an in-house DJ. The latter two feel a little less intrusive than the last time we reviewed a game here, which we feel is a plus in the Bighorns' favor.
The seats in sections 116 and 117 have the "best view" at a Bighorns game, but really, pretty much any of them will put you in decent proximity to the action. For good views at an equivalent price, sideline seats in any section are what we recommend, whether for a single game or an entire season.
The Reno Events Center is one block north of the National Bowling Stadium between 4th and 5th Streets just east of downtown's hotel-casinos. It's an area with a decent amount of foot traffic that's fairly safe to walk around in.
Options for dining before or after a game are numerous, and depend entirely upon your personal tastes and budget. A five-minute walk down 4th Street will put you at one of our two recommendations in this area: Louis' Basque Corner, and the Depot Craft Brewery and Distillery. A longer walk west yields even more restaurants of all sizes throughout the downtown area.
Entertainment options are what you'd expect in a casino town, with various acts that change with the seasons. We suggest taking a quick ride to check out the National Automobile Museum on Lake Street, and if you're traveling with kids, we especially recommend the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum on Center Street. A stroll through the Riverwalk District downtown is also a nice bet for shops, restaurants and scenery, while day trip options include Lake Tahoe and Virginia City.
Hotels, not surprisingly, are also in abundance downtown. For its combination of location, amenities and price, the Silver Legacy is a solid choice. Our recommendation, if you're willing to spend a little more, is the Whitney Peak next to the famous Reno arch.
The fans at a Bighorns game enjoy themselves to the extent that can be reasonably expected. They are superbly adequate in nearly every imaginable respect.
Bighorns home games typically draw between 2,000 and 2,500 fans a night, which is near the bottom of the NBA Development League overall, but more than half full by their arena's capacity, which is about 3,600 for basketball games. They'll happily cheer big plays and promotions while mostly keeping to themselves the rest of the time.
Navigating the downtown Reno area to attend a Bighorns game is typically not a problem, with free parking structures within walking distance and a straightforward arena layout inside.
The city's main bus terminal is kitty-corner across Lake Street from the arena, with a 10-ride pass costing $4, which can take you from downtown to south Reno's Meadowood Mall in 22 minutes. A 15-minute car ride will take you to the region's commercial airport, Reno-Tahoe International.
The city's three main hotel-casinos - the Eldorado, Silver Legacy and Circus Circus - each have a parking structure available for fans, with the latter two being free at all times. Structures at the National Bowling Stadium and Harrah's usually charge a small fee to park for games. We suggest the Silver Legacy's garage, as it's the most straightforward walk to the arena. Several exits off of Interstate 80 will take you to and from the downtown area, and are usually not a hassle to navigate unless you're attending a game on the same night as a concert or other event downtown.
Entering games is a simple matter of getting any bags searched, followed by a quick pass through a metal detector. Unfortunately, ticketless entry was not available at our most recent visit, but plans to implement it are in the works.
A typical Bighorns crowd will have no trouble navigating the wide concourse inside the entrance. Closed circuit TVs make up for the lack of an open concourse, accessible seating is found at the edge of each club seat area, and the arena's bathrooms are clean and not backed up with lines.
The cost to attend a Bighorns game is just about right for what's offered, and has options that cater to numerous income brackets.
For single games, tickets start at $10 in the group area near the top of the sections, then go up to $12 in the next section up ("sideline"), then $18 ("sideline premier"), then $24 ("sideline elite"), then $30 ("sideline marquee"), and finally three areas of "executive sideline" seats in the four center sections (premier, marquee and elite) ranging from $36 to $50 per game. It's with groups and season ticket holders that Bighorn game tickets become highly incentivized. Groups of 25 to 50 people can take advantage of discounted single game tickets from $7 to $35, while groups of more than 50 can enjoy those same tickets for $5 to $30. Season ticket packages range from $240 in the sideline level to $960 in the executive sideline marquee row at courtside, breaking down to a range of $10 to $40 per game.
Though flimsy, a game program is free, and when coupled with a cheeseburger, fries and a bottomless soda, none of it will eclipse the $15 threshold. Another popular promotion for saving money is $2 cups of Miller High Life for Friday night home games. Special group nights contracted with various local organizations throughout the season can also fill up the arena for a lower price. We suggest parking in one of the city's free garages, if you don't mind a little walk.
We always like seeing part of the game day experience tailored with young fans in mind, and a Bighorns game has arguably the best such experience in northern Nevada. In addition to three bounce houses, a line of tables staffed with volunteers from area museums is there with a plethora of games and hands-on activities. These include the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum, Fleischman Planetarium and the Nevada Museum of Art, among others. All of these activities are available to kids free of charge, though the bounce houses (naturally) require little jumpers to take their shoes off first.
Highlights of attending a Reno Bighorns home game include a plethora of dining options and attractions in the immediate area, easy accessibility inside and outside the venue, and an overall value that is just right for the price. With that said, it could greatly benefit from better concession options and a more passionate and involved fan base.
Member Review by AndrewMaurins on Mar 06, 2016
For most of its history, basketball in the Biggest Little City in the World was limited to the college variety at the nearby University of Nevada. But unknown to many residents, Reno has hosted three professional basketball teams below the sport’s highest level in the US and Canada.
For one season apiece, the Western Basketball Association (1978-79) and Continental Basketball Association (1982-83) both featured professional teams known as the Reno Bighorns. The WBA’s Bighorns were led by basketball guru Bill Musselman, who reached the seven-team league’s finals in their only year of operation.
In 2008, Reno was awarded a third professional basketball franchise to bear the Bighorns name, this time from the National Basketball Association’s minor league, the NBA Development League. Honoring both prior Reno teams and Nevada’s state animal, the bighorn sheep, their colors of green, brown and blue were selected as a nod to nearby Lake Tahoe. Their primary parent club since their inception has been the Sacramento Kings, but others have included the New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies and Utah Jazz. Their head coaches have even included another Musselman, this one the late Bill’s son Eric, another basketball gypsy with a long resumé who has since been hired just up the street at Nevada.
The current Bighorns call the Reno Events Center home, and have made three playoff appearances since their founding. In addition to concerts, musicals, comedy acts and other performances, the 7,000-seat multi-purpose venue has twice hosted the NBA D-League Showcase, and was recently selected to host the Big Sky Conference men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. The arena and its crowds have witnessed several former Bighorn players go on to varying degrees of NBA success, including Danny Green, Jeremy Lin, Steve Novak, Hassan Whiteside and Ray McCallum. The 2014-15 squad led the D-League in scoring, and their seven NBA call-ups were the most of any team that season.
Head coach David Areseneault Jr.’s brand of fast-paced, high-scoring action has carved out a unique niche in both the D-League and northern Nevada. The team aims to provide area fans with a fun, laid back experience that, like other minor league teams, doesn’t take itself quite as seriously as its parent league.
301 E 4th St
Reno, NV 89512