Backboard Bricks- A Trip to Mecca at the Palestra 2-17-07

February 17th, 2007

Backboard Bricks- Consistently Off-Target Commentary 2-17-07

Inaugural Post- A Trip to Mecca at the Palestra in Philadelphia, PA

Inspired by the good people here at CHN I decided a few weeks ago to embark on a journey to a variety of different college basketball venues. I, as I’m sure many of you as well, have viewed a countless number of games via various television networks but other than NCAA tournament games, and my hometown teams I really haven’t taken the opportunity to experience the true spirit of college basketball in person. Then a few weeks ago Bill Kintner wrote an article about his experiences with the various different arenas and I decided I wanted to see them for myself as well. You can find Bill’s fantastic article here:

Hearing so much about the quote unquote “cathedral” of college basketball being the Palestra, the home arena for UPENN, and me being in North NJ I surmised there was no recourse for me but to see it for myself cheesesteaks and all. Since it was at most a 2 hour drive down to Philadelphia I left at 4:45 for a 7:00 game knowing I had plenty of time. Rolling into a parking structure at 8:20 I was left humbled, hostile, and having possibly the largest case of road rage in this young man’s life (I will also never again underestimate turnpike traffic on a Friday evening). This game was going to be a sequey into my first blog entry and I knew showing up missing the 1st 27 min of a basketball game a Shawn Seigel I did not make.

However my Dr. Cox like rage had quickly turned to J.D. like enthusiasm as I pulled off of I-76 and turned right into campus. Immediately you know you’re on hallowed ground. The outside of the building is classic Ivy League with old brick that just oozes history out of whatever material it is that holds them together. The will call window with my tickets has long past been taken down, but luckily I have the printout with my purchased tickets confirmation, and they let me sit wherever I like. Picking a nice place around center court I get to enjoy the final 12 minutes of the ball game and realize I was so happy I never turned around. First of all the place holds in the crowd noise VERY well. It was about half full in there and still was rockin’. You could tell that when it’s packed there it’s bedlam. Regardless the crowd was fantastic. When I sat down Penn was up on Columbia by 13 but the crowd was into it like it was a one possession game. Also the stereotypical old and jaded Philly fan, apparently there were plenty of them in my section, only added to the ambiance as they made sure the local officials knew their opinions.

The game, or what I saw of it, was well played with a lot of intensity. The previous week I went to Harvard @ Princeton and these two games were night and day. That game was in double OT but with half the passion. Penn plays really tough, aggressive defense and definitely feeds off the crowd. Offensively in the 2nd half Ibrahim Jaaber a senior guard hit some big shots in the end to finish Columbia off, and Steve Danley, although he’s undersized, played tough in the post. Columbia played hard as well but were really out manned by the Quakers. I tried to take a few pictures of the game from my camera phone. Although they aren’t the best you can view them here:

The best part about the Palestra for me however was after the game. There’s a hallway that goes around the entire stadium that is basically a college basketball hall of fame with everything from old NIT trophies (back when it was the championship to win in college hoops), sections devoted to each team of the Big 5, and more. One item in particular were these wooden frames along the outside wall showing pictures from certain eras. I took a picture of the era from 1896 to 1920:

One framed picture I found entertaining was a team photo with a ball as the prop with a written ’01-’02 on it. It seemed normal enough until I realized that was over 100 years ago! Wow!

They also had these great graphical collages of players from each of the Big 5 teams, great players in Philly HS history, great coaches, and more. I glanced over one picture without even recognizing the guy until I saw his name. See if you can:

Finally, the biggest rivalry in the Ivy League is Penn v. Princeton. They’ve got a running tally that shows the current overall score (I wonder how well it would be kept up to date if Princeton ever took the lead). In the past 30 years only Brown and Cornell have won Ivy conference titles other than these two. Not only is it a great rivalry but it’s also consistently great basketball:

With history such as this the Palestra holds a slew of amazing records and firsts.
- The 1st 5-on-5 game was instituted by UPENN
- The Palestra held the 1st college basketball game ever played. Penn defeated Yale 26-15 on January 1st, 1927.
- There’s been more regular season and post season games held at the Palestra than any other arena in the country.

You can read more about the history of the Palestra at or go to the link here:

I came in hearing about how the Palestra was the cathedral of college basketball and it in no way shape or form disappointed. If basketball was a religion the Palestra would be it’s Vatican. If you consider yourself a college basketball fan in any sense of the word and have the opportunity to go you’d be doing yourself a disservice by missing it. I know I’ll go back (this time I’ll be on time).