The NBA’s Best Arena Names


October 10, 2014: The exterior of Madison Square Garden illuminated in red, white and blue for the 2014-2015 New York Rangers hockey season.

You might have seen NBA arena rankings before, but probably not the ranking of the best arena names. Well, you should, and so here it is. But what makes a good arena name?

A historic name that stands the test of a time is a valuable commodity that put New York’s famed arena in the top slot, and with corporate names making up all but two on the list, not having one adds value to the name. It should also be noted that I find it hard to disassociate a company’s transgressions from my ranking system, so if your arena is associated with a recent corporate scandal, the name will suffer.

Other things I like – brevity and the ability for the name to roll of the tongue. Superfluous wordage and extra syllables won’t help your cause while a good sounding, crisp title will.

So without further adieu, the list:

  1. Madison Square Garden (New York Knicks)

It is the preeminent name among NBA arenas. If you have to mention only one, it’s Madison Square Garden.

Its name comes from Manhattan’s Madison Square, named after the fourth President of the United States and Founding Father, James Madison. The square was the site of the first building bearing the illustrious name. Originally a train depot, it changed its name to Madison Square Garden in 1879 after being converted to a boxing arena. The building was later demolished, and on top of it rose the second incarnation of MSG in 1890. A third one was built in 1925 before being replaced by the current Midtown location of Madison Square Garden in 1968. Four different arenas, three locations, Madison Square Garden is basketball’s arena.

It’s also got what few other arenas have – no corporate sponsor to clutter up the name. It’s nice to say the name of something without advertising something.

  1. Air Canada Centre (Toronto Raptors)

We first heard of the Air Canada Centre when Vince Carter first began his aerial assaults on the rim. It was the perfect name for Canada’s premiere basketball team and the league’s premier dunker. Despite Carter’s departure, the name endures. There are still things in basketball you can association with air. Plus, Canada is in the name, which is even more fitting since the Raptors are now Canada’s lone NBA team. I also think the way they misspelled Centre is a cute, endearing quality we’ve come to expect from our Canadian brethren.

  1. FedEx Forum (Memphis Grizzlies)

From what I know FedEx doesn’t have too bad of a reputation other than one of its planes crashed, leaving Tom Hanks to fend for himself on a deserted island. If we ignore that, the name is short, simple and has a nice ring to it.

It also gets the distinction of being the only “forum” in the league, but of course it’s not “The Forum,” that will always belong to the Lakers’ previous arena. Still, it’s not a bad name for an arena.

  1. The Palace at Auburn Hills (Detroit Pistons)

I get what they’re trying to by adding the location in the name, but simply “The Palace” would be better. No offense to the community of Auburn Hills, but I don’t care enough to want it in the name. To be honest, I’d rather have it in downtown Detroit anyway (which is starting to sound like more of a reality).

Still, there’s no corporate sponsor and most people call it The Palace anyway. That’s enough to have it high on this list. Reminiscent of the Utah Jazz’s first arena, The Salt Palace, there’s something very satisfying about having a basketball played in a palace.

  1. Oracle Arena (Golden State Warriors)

The most common definition of oracle is a person who can communicate with the divine, but it’s also a shrine for which divine messages can be received. Other than the ultra religious, sports fans pray the most, and they flock to their stadiums and arenas in hopes their prayers are answered. The Warriors have definitely answered prayers as of late, but with a new San Francisco arena on its way, this name won’t be around much longer as it will eventually give way to the Chase Center, which would rank much lower on this list.

  1. United Center (Chicago Bulls)

I wish there were more arenas that didn’t have corporate names, but if you try real hard to block out any knowledge that United is actually a subpar airline company, it’s a good name for an arena. If I were the Chicago Bulls, I would use the imagery that the word united conjures up in a marketing campaign to bring awareness to the team’s hometown fans. “United together as one.” Or something dumb like that. The Seattle Seahawks are trying to copyright the number 12 in their campaign to showcase their fans, so you’d think other teams might try a similar ploy.

  1. Philips Arena (Atlanta Hawks)

If only this name had an apostrophe and it was Philip’s Arena. When you went to a game, it would be like you were hanging out with your buddy Philip at his arena. Even without the added punctuation, it still checks two boxes of a good name – being concise and easy to say. It’s also a Dutch electronics company, which might go for something.

  1. Barclays Center (Brooklyn Nets)

Barclays is a London-based bank, but when I see the name with their eagle emblem, my stupid imagination conjures up images of a historically great Anglo-Saxon warrior. For that completely subjective position, it earns points on this list.

It also passes the phonetics test. Syllables are kept to a minimum and it’s not too difficult to pronounce.

  1. Moda Center (Portland Trail Blazers)

Up until recently, the home of the Trail Blazers would have been number two on this list with the Rose Garden. But with new times comes new names. It’s too hard for teams to pass up that corporate money. But it could be worse.

“Moda” is only two syllables, and to their credit, Moda Health, an insurance company, didn’t name it the Moda Health Center. Therefore, we can all be blissfully unaware that it is anything other than the name for the Portland Trail Blazers’ arena. The name actually comes from the Latin word “modus,” meaning “the way,” and I’m sure you could work that into some kind of marketing campaign for the team.

  1. TD Garden (Boston Celtics)

If you have to have a corporate sponsor, at least dilute it as much as possible. Two letters seems like a pretty good attempt at doing so. The “TD” stands for “Toronto-Dominion.” As the name suggests, it’s Canadian owned and Toronto is an Atlantic Conference rival, which doesn’t seem to fit, but I suppose you and your friend could come up with your own version of what “TD” stands for.

The name is not perfect, of course. It’s still named after a bank, and it leaves you nostalgic for the original, the Boston Garden, a classic in all time arena names.

  1. Pepsi Center (Denver Nuggets)

It’s kind of fun to say “Pepsi.” It’s got a stupid cute appeal about it. Plus, it’s bubbly and refreshing. Cola, whether it’s Coke, Pepsi or RC is just good, and if it weren’t so horrible for my health, I would drink more of it.

If I try real hard, I can imagine a place where every pipe, faucet and fountain has Pepsi flowing through out of it, and I like that image.

  1. Amway Center (Orlando Magic)

I always thought Amway was some kind of train company. It’s not. They sell a bunch of home and beauty products I will never buy. I still want to believe it’s something in trains, however.

It’s also another name where brevity is at a premium, and that’s a good thing, although it’s kind of bland sounding.

  1. Spectrum Center (Charlotte Hornets)

It’s not the Philadelphia 76ers arena of old, the Spectrum, and it’s named after a huge cable company. It loses points on those accounts. And while I like the meaning of the word “spectrum,” I don’t like the way it rolls of the tongue as much. Of course, it could be worse, so it’s important not to hold too much against it.

  1. Smoothie King Center (New Orleans Pelicans)

This name would be much lower on this list if it weren’t for the sheer audacity of naming an arena “Smoothie King.”

  1. Toyota Center (Houston Rockets)

Overall, Toyota makes pretty decent vehicles, but you just hear the name so much. It’s one of those companies that is always around. It doesn’t cost it too many points, but it loses some cachet.

  1. Verizon Center (Washington Wizards)

Verizon is also just too common. If I tried real hard to disentangle what I know about the company, I could get behind the sound of the name, but it’s a real effort, so I’ll just put it one notch above its rival even though I’d go with AT&T before I’d go with Verizon.

  1. AT&T Center (San Antonio Spurs)

The same thing about Toyota and Verizon being ubiquitous can also be said for AT&T. It also falls in the “it could be worse” category, preventing it from being on the lower rungs of this list.

  1. Target Center (Minnesota Timberwolves)

Another corporate name that’s all over the place. It doesn’t do much for me.

  1. Golden 1 Center (Sacramento Kings)

Golden 1 is the newest arena on this list and looks to be a nice one at that, yet it suffers from a credit union’s name that sounds more like some low-rent Nevada casino that you could catch a disease at, and it’s stupid yellow color messes up the purple and black color motif the team has already got.

  1. Staples Center (Los Angeles Lakers / Los Angeles Clippers)

“Staples” is an alright name for an office supply store, but it’s no fit for one of the leagues most storied franchises and its other tenant. The Lakers go from playing in one of the all-time arena names to something name after a small piece of metal that binds papers together. It’s a slap in the face.

  1. American Airlines Arena (Miami Heat)

The name loses any kind of appeal when it’s dilute into two forms. This one beats out its bastard brother only because it’s an alliteration.

  1. American Airlines Center (Dallas Mavericks)

This one also loses to its brother because there was already an arena named after American Airlines and they decided to make it another.

  1. Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Indiana Pacers)

No arena sounds more pompous while trying hard not to than Bankers Life Fieldhouse. When I think of people most of out of touch with the lives of regular folk, it’s that of high-level bankers. The name sounds like a place where they go to jerk each other off. Its slight saving grace is that it’s the only fieldhouse in the NBA.

  1. Talking Stick Resort (Phoenix Suns)

“Talking Stick” sounds like the name of a white-owned hotel-and-casino trying to trick people into thinking it’s run by Native Americans. How this name got past so many decisions is beyond me.

  1. Vivint Smart Home Arena (Utah Jazz)

This one is frustrating on two fronts. It’s where my favorite team plays, and there is an obvious fix. They’ve got to drop the insistence of “Smart Home” being in the name. It’s either an arena or a home, but it’s not both. This is an arena, and nobody wants to go through all that extra bullshit just to say the name of the arena.

The next step is to make it a “center.” The Delta Center was the original name of this arena. While it’s nowhere near as good of a name as it’s predecessor, the Salt Palace, fans prefer that name over the subsequent names to the building, Energy Solutions Arena and the current abomination. You make it the Vivint Center and it is colloquially known as “The Viv.” It immediately goes to an above average arena name without changing the naming rights partner.

  1. Quicken Loans Arena (Cleveland Cavaliers)

I just don’t think that basketball and mortgage lending should mix. I know, teams need to get sponsors, but when it comes to the building that hosts an NBA franchise, not everything works. The world champions and that arena deserve better, but as long as Dan Gilbert owns that team, it ain’t happening.

  1. BMO Harris Bradley Center

At first it was just The Bradley Center, named after Harry Lynde Bradley. Bradley, a staunch anti-communist, cofounded a factory automation equipment company and later turned his excess wealth into a foundation that supported conservative political efforts.

This name endured until 2012 when naming rights were given to BMO Harris Bank, giving the arena its horrible name. It’s wordy, sounds really stupid, and sticks to the tongue when trying to say it. As for Mr. Bradley, his Wikipedia page hasn’t done enough to convince me that his name is worthy enough to bump this a few spots up.

  1. Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City Thunder)

I don’t want a fracking company to be the name of an NBA arena either. Only if they changed their name to the Oklahoma City Earthquakes, then I would consider their existing arena’s name appropriate.

  1. Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia 76ers)

Not a good time to be named after Wells Fargo.