NBA’s first outdoor game took place on September 24th, 1972. It was a pre-season game between the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks – the matchup that also ended up being the ’72-’73 season-opener.
The game was played at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, a baseball park in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was an alternative solution, as the game was initially intended to be played at Coliseo Roberto Clemente – San Juan’s new arena. However, since it hasn’t been completed yet, Birthorn was used, becoming the venue that hosted the NBA’s first outdoor contest. As far as how the game went, Phoenix defeated the Bucks 116-103, with the rain pouring on the stadium right after the game was over.
After that, it took the NBA 36 years to organize such an event again. That is until October 11th, 2008, when the Suns have faced the Nuggets at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California.
It was a highly-anticipated contest, as people wanted to experience NBA basketball being played outside. Safe to say, Stadium 1 was sold out, with roughly 16,000 people eagerly waiting for a game to begin. Unfortunately for all the fans at the stadium, the level of basketball displayed hadn’t been at the level of a regular NBA game. And the reason for it was the cold.
The temperature at tip-off was about 70 degrees. It had later dipped down to 64 degrees, accompanied by gusts of 15 mph by the fourth quarter. Funny thing is the NBA picked Californian desert because it was a guaranteed place for dry weather, but the unseasonably strong gusts made it hard to focus on basketball.
It was colder than a mother—— out there. And you can quote me on that.Shaquille O’Neal, ESPN
Players’ feelings about the game were all pretty much the same; great idea, but poorly timed. And it sure reflected on their play, as both teams bricked 24 of 27 attempts from behind the three-point line. The Nuggets went 18/38 from the charity stripe and only shot 36.3 percent from the floor as a team. They were missing the injured Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson but were still able to take down the Suns.
Phoenix also had two key guys sit out the game; Amar’e Stoudemire and Leandro Barbosa. How bad they performed as a team can best be described with the fact that Steve Nash was the only one who scored in double digits, dropping 16 points. The Suns as a team shot 31.6 percent from the field and were never to find a way to cope with the on-court conditions.
The only thing that could’ve gone wrong did. It made organizing future NBA outdoor games questionable. Because no matter how good things were organizational-wise, playing in the roofless arena makes you vulnerable to things that are out of your control. And such thing happened, setting a bad precedent for future events.
However, it didn’t stop the NBA from further trying outdoor games experiment. In fact, it only took them a year to organize another contest of such. The game was once again set to be played at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, with once again the Suns facing a young Warriors team.
This time, weather conditions were optimal, and players were able to focus solely on the game of basketball. It showed in the overall quality of the game. Just by looking at the box score, it’s obvious the game was much more up to NBA standards.
Anthony Morrow dropped 30 off the bench, leading the Golden State Warriors to a 104-101 win against Phoenix. Both Stephen Curry and Corey Maggette scored in double digits, tailing 18 and 17 points of their own. Curry also sank two late-game free-throws at the end of the game, announcing himself as the next player to watch in the NBA.
He had a good game. He’s a very exciting prospect for our league.Steve Nash
Channing Frye led the Suns with 19 points, and Grant Hill added 16 of his own. However, it wasn’t enough to take down the Dubs. Overall, it was a much more successful outing than the previous year’s one, and it had shown the NBA that such games are a possibility.
The last NBA outdoor game was played on October 9th, 2010. The Suns were once again the home team, facing the Dallas Mavericks who were without their best player in Dirk Nowitzki.
This was the first game where home-team came out on top. They beat the Mavs 98-90, behind Grant Hill’s 16 points performance. The Suns erupted for 36 points in the third quarter, going 13-for-21 from the field and steering the game in their favor. Steve Nash added 15 points for Phoenix and was among five players that scored in double digits that night.
JJ Barea had 13 for Dallas, with Caron Butler contributing 12 points of his own. But the lack of Dirk, combined with the fact they were also without their coach Rick Carlisle, left Dallas with no chance of winning the game.
There hasn’t been an NBA game played outdoors since. And looking back on these games, I don’t see a reason why occasional one wouldn’t be played outside. Organizational-wise, the league has shown the ability to pull it off, and there’s definitely a demand for it shown by the fans.
Hopefully, we’ll see more of them in the future. They sure look fun.