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Official Review by Jim Flannery, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Last year I was surprised to find out that the American Basketball Association was still a thing.
The league that operated as a direct competitor with the NBA from 1967-76 folded after that season, with four of the teams merging into the NBA and, as far as most people are concerned, that was the end of the story.
But in 2000, the ABA was resurrected by a couple former ABA team owners with a vision to bring pro basketball to as many places as possible.
More than a decade later, the new ABA is still in operation and, in 2012, the Calgary Crush became another new addition to the league.
Playing in Trojans Gymnasium in the Campus Centre building at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), the Crush have actually enjoyed a great deal of success on the floor to date and are now in their second season in the ABA.
Trojans Gymnasium opened for business in 1980, originally featuring a rubber floor. The floor was changed to hardwood in 1994 and was resurfaced during the summer of 2013 making it beautiful and shiny for pro basketball.
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".
There is no food service inside the gym proper, so you have to step out into Campus Centre if you're looking for a bite. There are a couple food and beverage vending machines just outside the gym doors. These contain a bunch of energy drink and juice choices as well as the usual chips and candy bars.
If you head upstairs from the gym entrance, you have three food service options. The Snack Shop, just south of the stairs, serves popcorn and nachos, but not much else beyond the selection of chips you can find in the vending machines.
The Odyssey Coffeehouse, to the north of the stairs and right next to the main entrance to the Campus Centre, can provide you with coffee and a couple other items like brownies and such.
Your third option, to the northwest of the stairs, is a Jugo Juice stand and I'd say that's your best bet for something a cut above. The smoothies are tasty and they have a nice selection of wraps, sandwiches and pita pockets. The Louisiana Heat wrap I had ($5.95 with a smoothie) was delicious and the Big Blue Protein smoothie ($6.25) was also tasty.
If you head down the hall in Campus Centre before, during or after the game, you'll find the campus pub, the Gateway Restaurant and Bar. Good college atmosphere and lots of adult beverages can be found there.
In a small venue like the Trojans Gymnasium, which holds fewer than 900 people, it's relatively easy to create a bunch of energy in the stands; even with the stands only half full, the crowd noise can get pretty loud when the big plays happen.
Still, a full house would be even more raucous and would add to the energy.
Generally, though, it's a pleasant, family friendly atmosphere at the game, with good tunes throughout.
As far as the quality of the product, the game play is a cut above what you could expect to see at a SAIT Trojans basketball game or a University of Calgary game not far down the road at the university campus. These athletes are not going to be confused with NBA players, but this is unquestionably the best basketball currently being played in Calgary.
The ABA style of play is also pretty entertaining. It's more up-tempo than the NBA with teams running the ball up and down the floor much more aggressively, and that by itself keeps things exciting to watch.
One downside in terms of atmosphere is that it doesn't really seem like home for the Crush in this building. Aside from the team on the floor, you'll be hard-pressed to find any evidence of a professional basketball franchise in the gym or the Campus Centre building, for that matter. The walls of the gym are covered with SAIT Trojans logos and championship banners but nothing really tells you this is also the home of the Crush.
A team banner in the gym and something similar on the building's exterior would go a long way towards making it seem like this is the home of the Crush as well as the home of the Trojans.
The SAIT campus is located at the top of a hill just north of Calgary's downtown core. This hill is known as "North Hill" because apparently the naming committee wasn't feeling very creative that day. Anyway, my point is that SAIT is just a few blocks from downtown and also situated on 16th Ave. which is one of the major thoroughfares in the city.
That means that beyond the Gateway right in Campus Centre, there's lots to see and do fairly close by.
Just across 16th Ave. from SAIT is a popular local watering hole called Loco Lou's which is a nice little pub with decent food.
To the immediate west of the SAIT campus, you'll find the North Hill Shopping Centre which has a Chili's and a Ricky's, so there are also two established franchise restaurants close by.
Another block west is Tipperary's Pub, which is a well-established lounge with good food and good deals in the evenings.
Another couple blocks west, on the corner of 16th Ave. and Crowchild Trail, is what is known as Motel Village, with a number of restaurants and bars, including one of my favorite places in the city, Big T's BBQ and Smokehouse; excellent Louisiana-style barbecue and blues music.
And, heading straight south from SAIT will take you downtown. But before you get there, you'll be passing through the Kensington district, which has quite a number of shops, services, restaurants and pubs. I like Molly Malone's Irish Pub and Sam's Bar and Grill, which are next door to each other on Kensington Cres.
There are only a few hundred of them, but the fans at Calgary Crush games seem to be dedicated hoops enthusiasts. They're loud and proud and seem right up-to-date with the players and the league.
All of this makes for good energy in the stands.
The fans are engaged, they cheer at all the right times and seem to be having lots of fun. The Crush front office just needs to find a couple hundred more fans to fill the place up and they'll really have something.
Access is very good for the SAIT campus. Located as it is just north of downtown and on one of the major roads, it's easy to get to by car from every direction. There is ample parking once you get to SAIT, including several surface lots around campus and an underground parking lot to the immediate east of Campus Centre. Evening parking costs $7.00, which is very reasonable in this city.
If you don't want to drive, there is also a Light Rail Transit (LRT) stop on the west side of Campus Centre, putting you right at the doorstep. Adult transit fares are $3.00 per trip.
Either of those options will get you to SAIT with a minimum of fuss and, with crowds of only a few hundred attending games, the lines and traffic jams you might normally expect for a professional sporting event are not a factor.
Single game tickets for the Crush are $12.00 for adults at the door, $10.00 for students and seniors, $5.00 for children and free for kids under five.
Virtually all seating is rush seating (the front two rows are reserved for season ticket holders). The SAIT Gym is only 11 rows deep on the west side and seven rows on the east side, so views are terrific from everywhere.
If you wish to try before you buy, there are large windows from the upper floor of Campus Centre overlooking the gym on both the east and west sides, so you can catch a bit of a sneak preview just by stopping and having a quick peek, as many people do over the course of the game.
Ultimately, dropping 12 bucks to see pro basketball is a bargain, so if you like what you see through the glass, you really should take the stroll downstairs, chip in to support the local franchise and soak up the atmosphere.
Just inside the doors to the gym you'll find a lengthy souvenir stand where you can find hoodies, shirts, hats, bumper stickers and other knick-knacks. The selection is actually very good considering the modest size of the franchise. But the pičce de résistance among all this stuff is authentic ABA basketballs. They're a little spendy at $60, but it's like owning a piece of basketball history to have one of these sweet red, white and blue balls.
When I attended my game, the Crush debuted their very own Dance Team who came out to entertain the crowd a couple times during stoppages in play, adding a little extra flavor to the experience.
Did I mention the distinctive ABA ball? Seeing it back in use in a real, live game was a special treat for me, as a basketball fan.
Calgary hasn't had a professional basketball team since the collapse of the short-lived Calgary Outlaws of the National Basketball League in 1994. Prior to that, the Calgary 88s were around from 1988-92. So it had been almost two decades before the Crush arrived in town.
For me, getting a chance to see a pro game in this city was exciting and fun and I think any hoops fan can get on board with this team.
Given that teams in the current version of the ABA come and go by the dozens, it's tough to tell if Crush management have themselves a viable product on their hands. But they've gotten to a second season and that's a very good sign for the future. Hopefully they can continue to extend their stay and grow their audience over the long haul.
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1324 16 Avenue Northwest
Calgary, AB T2M 0L1
2002 16 Avenue Northwest
Calgary, AB T2M 0M1
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