' ' Cinema Romantico: An Ode to NCAA Tournament Basketball Courts of Yore

Friday, March 19, 2021

An Ode to NCAA Tournament Basketball Courts of Yore

The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) filed a complaint against a Virginia Urology Practice, per The New York Times, for seeking to trademark the phrase Vasectomy Madness, believing it hues a little too closely to its own trademarked March Madness, alternate moniker for their annual NCAA Basketball Tournament. Never mind that the NCAA itself cribbed March Madness from the Illinois High School Association, this frivolous complaint puts into perspective the organization’s overwhelming desire to consolidate its almighty brand. Ask the first sports reporter this year who is ordered to pour their beverage into an NCAA-sanctioned cup. Whereas once March Madness was merely a colloquialism applied to the tournament, a la calling The Rose Bowl the Granddaddy Of ‘Em All, now March Madness® is literally imprinted on each NCAA Tournament court, siphoning every ounce of pizzazz out of the once lovable Mom and Pop nickname. 

Oh yeah, and what of those courts? If Tournament games used to be contested on that host site’s own arena floor, meaning a court of their chosen design, yielding a charming carnival of colors and fonts and patterns, now even those have been regulated. At first, they were monotonous monstrosities emblemizing nothing less than watered down groupthink, making every game seem like it was beamed in from the same stale set rather than a distinctive locale. In 2016, at least, they added a teeny bit more color and variety to these courts, though I would refrain from labeling them “snazzy”, as CBS did, and point you instead to the NCAA’s own press release deeming the new designs “modern, but classic and clean”, marketing verbiage for mundane functionality. It is peak stupidity. Only the NCAA could screw up something so simple. 

Today let’s remember when it wasn’t screwed up. Let’s remember when the NCAA was smart enough (stupid enough?) to leave impeccable alone. Let’s remember this blog’s all-time Top 5 NCAA Tournament courts. 

5. Kemper Arena, Kansas City

The eye-popping picturesqueness of the parquet floor was perfectly juxtaposed against the simple, self-evident elegance of that indigo-ish blue, which I like to believe represented K.C.’s considerable Blues history, along the baseline and in the lane, unencumbered by graphics or writing. This court was the first time, at a young age, I distinctly remember thinking, “Hey, that court sure is pretty.”

4. Rosemont Horizon, Rosemont IL

As a Chicago resident for going on 16 years I have been to Allstate Arena, as it now called, where DePaul used to play their home games, a displeasing edifice worthy of the nondescript suburban parking lot housing it. But in my mind, Allstate Arena will never look that way. No, it will always look the way it did during that epic Jason Kidd/Bobby Hurley 2nd round showdown in 1993 (see: directly above), the uncluttered scarlet red balanced against the light-hued court to live out its-then mellifluous moniker, the Rosemont Horizon, which sounded so much more magical, of course, than it turned out to be, like the sun was about to rise over the sideline. Back then, every NCAA Tournament site was a Rosemont Horizon; now they’re all just a bunch of cut-rate Allstate Arenas. 

3. Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro NC

If I think of major metropolitan areas when I think of the Final Four, I think of Greensboro when I think of the first and second rounds, unlikely and modest outposts that given the context become unexpectedly enchanting. And that court, oh that court, is enchanting too, in its own garish way, teal and purple mixed with a bright floor and a blaring Greensboro Coliseum center court logo that just feels like the third-most populated city in North Carolina trying to show off like Vega$. 

2. McKale Center, Tucson AZ

I swear the McKale Center was hosting first and second round games every other year when I was growing up. And while I appreciated the sleek, uncomplicated court design, what I most loved was that cactus, epitomizing a sense of unique locale the current courts have rendered all but extinct. 

1. BSU Pavilion, Boise ID

There is is. It’s not even close. Do I even have to explain it? Doesn’t the court speak for itself? I love this court so much that my love was not compromised, not one iota, when it wound up the scene of my single worst basketball memory. The first time I remember seeing BSU Pavilion, in 1992, It was like seeing “L’Avventura” after years of American formula. It expanded my sports arena design horizons, making me realize a basketball court was not merely 90 feet of hardwood but a canvas for expression, not simply a place to mechanically paint the school colors but to use the school colors aesthetically, transforming the area around the basket into a damn pinwheel. Imagine the NCAA laying down one of its  “modern, but classic and clean” pieces of junk over an immaculate rainbow and that is what we have lost.

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