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  • Writer's pictureDave Cottenie

Toyota Center – Houston Rockets


Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57

Toyota Center 1510 Polk St Houston, TX 77002


Year Opened: 2003

Capacity: 18,055

 

The Rocket’s Red Glare


 In 1970, the City of Houston was granted a National Basketball Association expansion team that folded before even taking the floor when the ownership group failed to make a payment. The modern day Houston Rockets actually began as an expansion team in 1967 in San Diego.  After a few lackluster years, the Rockets moved to Houston, where the team name more aptly fit, and began play in 1971.  The Rockets would have a nomadic existence in the city until 1975 when they moved to The Summit, which is now the church headquarters of evangelist Joel Osteen. 


The Toyota Center was built in 2003, partially in response to the exodus of the Houston Oilers of the NFL.  An improvement on The Summit in both location and amenities, Toyota Center aids to the mythos of the city of Houston as a major event city.


Since 1971, the Rockets have been a staple in Houston, which culminated in the two NBA Championships that were won during Michael Jordan’s retirement, 1994 and 1995.


Food & Beverage 4

The concession scene at first glance appears to be limited, however, when looking into the menu further it is fairly diverse.  Concession stands such as Space City Dogs and Pizza Hut provide a variety of regular arena offerings.  Interesting hot dog options include the Big Dawg and Fork and Knife Dog.  Burgers and chicken sandwiches are available with the Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich featured as well.  It wouldn’t be Texas without BBQ on the menu and there are two BBQ concession stands on the main floor.  Burritos and nachos make up the Tex Mex quotient.  Pepsi products are the soft drink of choice and the new lemon-lime option, Starry, was heavily featured.  Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Corona and Modelo headline the macrobrew options.  Clutch City Lager by Karbach is a local option that may be worth trying.


Atmosphere 4

Toyota Center is a solid place to watch an NBA game.  The exterior is attractive with a light colored exterior containing plenty of windows.  The main entrance is at the north end of the building at the corners of Polk and LaBranch and features a unique concave entry.  Outside the north entrance is a monument for Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon.  It is unique in that it is not a massive bronze statue, but a large bronze plaque with Olajuwon’s number 34 jersey. 


Upon entry into the Toyota Center, fans are greeted with bright, clean and spacious concourses that feature a number of interesting items on the main floor.  Fans must be sure to check out the bobblehead case with all sorts of different Rockets bobbleheads.  Also the Jerseys Through the Years wall is worth checking out as there is as jerseys are displayed going all the way back to the San Diego days.  Current player murals can be found in the concourse as well as the Hall of Fame murals, showcasing all of the Rocket greats over the years.  The Home Court is an interactive area for fans featuring tracks spun by a live DJ.


Fans will enter the seating area and be struck with the steepness of the Toyota Center, making for terrific sightlines.  The lower seating bowl is very large and the court runs from northeast to southwest, with the best picture for a center court logo from the northwest side.  Two levels of luxury boxes separate the upper and lower seating areas on the northwest and southeast sides, while the upper decks on the ends, behind the baskets, are larger and lower, giving off more of a theatre vibe than in other arenas.  The four corners of the arena have massive pillars that are covered and feature LED lighting that becomes part of the show. Above center court is a massive, modern videoboard, longer on the sides than ends.  Every facia separating different levels is covered with an LED ribbon board.  Banners hang on the northeast and southwest ends of the arena.  On the southwest are the banners for the 1994 and 1995 NBA Championships as well as consolidated banners for conference and division titles.  The northeast end houses banners for the now defunct Houston Comets of the WNBA and the retired jerseys of the greatest Rockets of all time.  These include Yao Ming, Clyde Drexler, Calvin Murphy, Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes and Rudy Tomjanovich along with Carroll Dawson, former GM.


The gameday production at a Houston Rockets game is on par with other NBA franchises.  The pregame is filled with music, lights, flags and dancers.  The Rockets mascot, Clutch, can be found as a part of promotions and throughout the building.  The Rockets heavily feature rap music from local artists like Megan Thee Stallion.



Neighborhood 5

The Toyota Center is located in the Central Business District of Downtown Houston.  There are a ton of options for fans who hope for a pre or post game meal or drink.  The Rustic, Rodeo Goat, Zydeco, The Grove, and Hearsay On The Green are all nearby options.  Houston is also rich in sporting events.  A “Big Event” city, Houston has hosted the NCAA National Football Championship, Super Bowl and NCAA Final Four.  Regular sports options are also numerous.  The Houston Astros of MLB, Houston Texans of the NFL and Houston Dynamo FC of MLS count as teams in major leagues.  There are a plethora of college options as well, including Houston Cougars basketball, baseball and football, Rice Owls basketball, baseball and football, Texas Southern Tigers basketball and Houston Christian Huskies baseball and basketball, among other college sports.  The Houston Dash of the NWSL and Houston Roughnecks of the UFL round out other pro sports.  February marks the arrival of the rodeo to Houston, one of the highlights of the year in the city.  There are also a ton of other tourist options in Houston including the Houston Zoo, Downtown Aquarium, Theatre District, Natural Science Museum and the Grafitti Art.  A must when in Houston, however, is to hop in the car and head just south of the city to Space Center Houston.  For fans who wish to stay near the Toyota Center Hampton Inn, Four Seasons and Holiday Inn Houston are all close options.


Fans 4

The Houston Rockets have been in a bit of a downturn in recent years and it has shown at the turnstile.  In the 2022-23 season the Rockets averaged just over 16,000 fans per game.  That was only good for 28th place in the NBA.  As of this writing, the Rockets have been better in the win column and at the game averaging over 17,400 fans per game, hitting 96% of capacity.  This improves their ranking to 22nd.  The fans in attendance are supportive of the team and are loud at all the right times.

 

Access 3

Toyota Center is located in the Central Business District in Downtown Houston.  Traffic in Houston can be a real challenge and for those new to the city, it may take some time getting used to the traffic flow.  Toyota Centre is located between I-45 and I-69 and north of the junction.  There are a few parking garages in the area.  Fans who are unfamiliar with the area are encouraged to consider scouting parking ahead of time and/or prepaying with a parking app.  For fans who are interested in taking public transit to the Rockets game, buses in the general area of the arena.  The light rail is on Main Street, five blocks west of the arena.  Interested fans should consult the METRO website for fares, schedules and maps.


Getting around the arena is not too difficult and the washroom facilities in Toyota Center are adequate for the venue.  Safety protocols for the NBA and all major sports are constantly in flux.  Stadium Journey highly recommends consulting the Houston Rockets and Toyota Center websites for the most up to date safety items, including bag policy and prohibited items.



Return on Investment 3

Tickets for the Houston Rockets begin at $24 and can get as high as $700.  Some good deals can be found as the Rockets are in the lower half of the NBA standings.  According to the last Fan Cost Index in 2022, the Houston Rockets was the 6th most expensive NBA experience at $109, above the average of $77.  It seems that there have been some price adjustments since the last FCI.  The gameday production is solid in Houston and fans will enjoy themselves at the game.


Extras 2

An extra mark for the Rockets having a real sense of the Clutch City culture, featuring local music talent.


An extra mark for Houston as a Big Event city.


Final Thoughts

When in Space City, checking out the Houston Rockets is a great way to help take in the entirety of the city.  The Toyota Center is a solid NBA venue and fans will have a good time at the game.


Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on YouTube, Twitter, Threads and Instagram @profan9.

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