As a longtime crazy basketball megafan who´s been a basketball player as a kid, a basketball referee for over ten years, an NBA fan since he remembers, and a meaningless ball statistics buff, attending an NBA game for the first time is kind of a big deal. Especially once you know that I am from Argentina and have to make at least 5,000 miles to being able to attend a game. That´s why I was 33 and yet to watch a live NBA game. But since dreams are to be come true, last November I was planning a trip to Orlando, and with that my expectations became bigger and bigger. This time I would be going to the US during basketball season, not only that, but matching the date I´d be there for the game scheduled between the Orlando Magic and the San Antonio Spurs, my San Antonio Spurs, and have the chance to see my favorite player ever, Manu Ginobili, dressed in Silver and Black tackling on a new game. (I always wondered if I was ever going to be able to watch him play in the NBA before he hangs it, and I did!). I also was able to go to the game with the love of my life (well, my other love of my life besides basketball).
As many fellow countrymen and countrywomen from Argentina and other outside US tourists are going to go through the same thing, I wanted to give some tips alongside telling my experience.
I will do this article (That will be quite long) with threefold objectives. For the megafan like me, for the casual fan, and to tell the tale of my dream come true…
Orlando, Florida is home of Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Florida, among tons of other tourist attractions, so if you are planning a family trip and you like basketball, do not miss the opportunity to catch a game at the Amway Center in Orlando, home of the Orlando Magic, one of the top franchises from the late nineties and 2000´s. And even if you are not a basketball fan, there is so much to enjoy on an NBA game for a non fan that the experience is well worth it.
But now, just for a second, let´s go back to fellow fans:
- Get early to the court: You will want to avoid long lines in the parking lots and get through to the court without the delays of the last minutes before action. Besides, that gives you the chance to catch the players during warm ups and shootaround and get a closer look as stadium security is as nice as it gets at the Amway Center and they let you get to courtside for better photo ops and even the occasional autograph. If your favorite player is foreign to US and from your country (in my case the Argentinian like me Manu Ginobili), bring your country flag and display it during shootarounds at courtside. Chances are he´ll likely come say hi.
- Don´t worry if you are rooting for the visiting team: I was with a Spurs T-shirt all night and not only the fans from the Orlando Magic did not say a bad word to me, they even complimented my team and its players, current standings and all. Something unthinkable from where I come from, and a much welcome breath of fresh air.
- Learn which elevator and which entrance are for your seats as soon as you enter the stadium: Once the game starts, you won´t probably move much, but if you do, you will certainly be happy to avoid losing any action because you get lost in the huge stadium.
- Buy food after shootaround and before game: No good game experience is correct without a hotdog, a roll, or popcorn, but, since you´ve been early to the court, there will be nearly half an hour between shootaround and the game; that´s the moment you´ll want to take to go buy food and beverages as most people are still trying to get to their seats and the lines at the shops are shorter. Extra tip: The commemorative 25 years of Orlando Magic Collector´s Cup is only an upgrade over your regular Pepsi. You´ll want to pay those extra few bucks and go back home with it. Extra tip – part II: One non clumsy adult is able to bring goodies for two people, but probably not more than that, unless you want to spill everything.
- Take your stadium first tour before game after shootaround: Since you already know which is your seat entrance and elevator, you now can, after players did the warmups and shootaround, have your photos taken and your autographs; go make that big big circle that is the Amway Center. Do it before the game, because there are lots of stuff to see. Mainly you´ll want to take your time in the exhibit for the 25 years of the Orlando Magic where you can see Shaq´s shoes or Penny Hardaway´s game outfit. Another interesting part is the All Stars exhibit from a couple of years back.
- Leave the Merchandising shopping for after the game: This takes time, going over whatever goodies you want to take back home, and except if you are planning to wear or otherwise use what you buy during the game, you´ll find yourself carrying stuff around. You can also find discount items after the game.
- Get your game night magazine: You can find along several security desks and other booths complimentary magazines with stats from the home team and the visiting team. They not only are great for in game check ups, but also a very nice memorabilia item from your NBA trip.
- Be aware of the scoreboard: There are 360 degrees screens on top of the stadium that shows everything you want to see, and most of all take a look at them during timeouts as they are showing a lot of funny stuff from the audience: Putting Mickey Mouse ears to attendants, the Kisscam, the dance cam and much more.
- Bring your camera: I took over 300 pictures. Probably way more than half of them before the game (Shootaround, players saying hi and signing autographs, the stadium, the exhibits, and all) Maybe 50 of them after the game of the details I wanted to remember and the other 50 during the game. This is a good ratio, as you won´t want to miss capturing the moment, but you also won´t want to be a captive of the camera and just enjoy the game, after all it´s your first freaking NBA game!.
- Let yourself go: If you are a basketball fan, don´t be shy and enjoy doing all the things you always wanted to do. When you hear D-Fense, D-Fense, shout it, even if it´s for the other team; dance during timeouts, try to catch whatever the mascot throws. It´s an experience of a lifetime if you live far from the courts; and one you´ll most definitely want to relive if you live closer and have the chance.
Now that I´ve given you the top ten tips I could think about when attending your first NBA game; I´ll do some more general tips for non ultrafans but casual fans or not so big on basketball that are on the fence on wether to go or not to an Orlando Magic game when visiting Orlando as a tourist.
- Go! Just Go!: You won´t regret it; it´s a world class sport event in world class facilities with world class entertainment.
- That day avoid the parks: The day for which you can get your Orlando Magic tickets, I´d recommend it´s not a park day, as parks should finish later than the best time to start your trip to the Amway Center and you might think you´ve missed out on something on the Parks, or get late to the court. Instead leave it for the day you plan to do other stuff: SeaWorld, Ripley´s, WonderWorks, MiniGolfing, NASA, a Nature Tour, CSI Exhibit or something like that which´ll give you plenty of time for both. If you don´t have enough days as to do so, do it the same day as you plan to do EPCOT; since it´s the one where you´ll walk the less you will probably be alright.
- Enjoy the show: Every timeout something´s happening, so it´s much more than plain ol´ basketball; during halftime there´s a bigger show (that day it was a canine talent show with America´s Got Talent winners); time will fly by and you won´t even notice you´ve been in there three or more hours.
- Feel the NBA vibe: There´s a certain special something when you go to the court. I wouldn´t be able to explain it properly, but there´s just a good vibe there; and you can mark as done one of the biggest sport events in the world from your bucket list while also enjoying yourself a lot.
So ok, I´ve done tips for fans like me, and for casual fans or even non fans thinking about going to an NBA Game. Now it´s time to get a bit more personal and tell you about my own experience on my very first NBA Game, November 29th 2013 between Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs.
We started planning this particular trip in August, and when I was decided to get the plane tickets I had a window of two weeks where I wasn´t going to give any class at college (I´m a college professor), and hours before going to the travel agency to arrange for the tickets, the NBA released the schedule for the season. Just out of curiosity I took a look at it to see which game I would be able to attend (I would´ve gone to whichever game) and big was my surprise when I saw Spurs would be there. After all, they play only one game in the whole season in Orlando. My prayers had been answered.
Folks at Orlando Magic were immensely kind and invited both of us to the game, so as you can imagine my excitement was growing bigger and bigger and I was counting down the days until November 29th. (I probably drove my GF crazy with my countdown)
We left all Disney and Universal parks out of our schedule for that day and chose to go to SeaWorld first. It was a great choice as it does not take as long and it even gave us time to go back to the hotel, rest a bit, recharge the cameras, take a shower and go to the Amway Center, after getting pumped up on the Kraken and Manta. (Story coming soon)
Nearly three hours before the game we were leaving our hotel room so as to get early enough to the stadium. I was very nervous and filled with expectation. We picked up our tickets and went in. I had a “first time at Times Square” kind of expression on my face looking everywhere. We found our seats and then I went down courtside to watch the Shootaround. As I was with my Argentinian flag, once Manu Ginobili finished his warm up he came and said hi (hence the photo on top of the article); but I also was greeted by Jeff Ayres, Marco Belinelli, Tiago Splitter and Matt Bonner from the Spurs, and Ime Udoka and Chip Engeland from the Spurs coach´s team. I was already ecstatic (I have to say Jeff Ayres seemed as happy as me when he said “Hi”. He probably doesn´t get too much attention on road games).
After the shootaround and the warm-ups I went back to my seat, not without first buying our food and beverages (I bought two T-Mac / Tobias Harris collector´s cups that I now have one at home and one turned out to be a gift for a friend who´s also an NBA fan), touring the stadium and the exhibits, taking some pictures and getting a bit lost (Those elevators can get tricky when you are excited and thinking about just basketball).
That half and hour between warm-ups and game tip-off goes by quite fast, and I was seating down by the time US National Anthem was about to start, so it was time to get up again. Then, the team introductions and that´s when the goose bumps start. I was about to watch an NBA game and there was nothing that could stop it, it was real.
Jump ball and the game starts. I would´ve been happy with whatever kind of game and result, but it not only was an entertaining game that turned out a victory for my team, it was also a great effort from both teams and a great source for highlights.
Imagine this: Spurs last season threw only one alley-oop ALL SEASON LONG. In only that game, they threw two, both from Manu Ginobili, one to Tim Duncan, one to Jeff Ayres. It felt like they were playing to make me happy. They certainly did.
I remember myself thinking or saying out loud “That Victor Oladipo will become a star”, and also enjoying the stadium´s voice say “Nic Vuuuuu Chevich” each time Nic Vucevic did anything on the court.
Another thing I remember was that I was so into the game and filled with excitement that probably I needed each timeout more than the players. After all, I was able to see my basketball hero Manu Ginobili play with Tim Duncan (Tony Parker sat out that game) and make a great pair with Marco Belinelli and see all those players I watch everyday on TV and it was so big and such a moving experience that I cried in the car while going back to the hotel. And I´m not at all ashamed of admitting it. Happy tears should shame no one. And boy those were happy tears. And I shared that moment with Dayana, my girlfriend and partner. I could not have asked for more.
Or maybe I can… I can ask for the chance to comeback and attend many more NBA games.
So now you know… if you are ever in Orlando as a tourist, one of the best things you can do is go to the Amway Center and live the experience of going to an NBA Game, an Orlando Magic game. Or what I can call now my second favorite NBA team; the one that made it possible for me to fullfill the dream of watching an NBA game live. The team that lives up to the name “Magic” in the city where magic is everywhere, a magic that surely can also call home the Amway Center and the basketball court.
Just as I finish this long long article, I want to say thanks to the Orlando Magic Credentials team for inviting me to this game. You made my day!
I hope you enjoyed my chronicle and you find it useful when you plan your own NBA trip. Most of the tips can apply for any other team. Head to the comments and leave me your thoughts. And remember to follow me on Twitter for more stuff about planning a vacation to Orlando, some more NBA stuff or all my TV related content.