Sheridan: Examining NBA Expansion and old NBA Arenas with Danny Schayes

Of all the cities, large and small, where Danny Schayes played basketball, the worst NBA venue was undoubtedly the old Miami Arena. Keep that in mind when thinking about NBA Expansion.

When it came to exhibition games, there were rodeo facilities in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana that all ended up in a relative tie. And then there was Marietta, Ohio: “It was like landing on an aircraft carrier, and Mark Eaton’s feet reached all the way into the cockpit of the 14-seat puddle-jumper we were flying in,” Schayes said.

Old arenas, new arenas, old money and new money are all relevant in the NBA these days for a lot of reasons: All of the old bandbox arenas are gone, and even the “state of the art (90s version) Bradley Center” in Milwaukee was shuttered a week ago.

What’s more, expansion is not on the horizon, according to commissioner Adam Silver in his most recent public comments.

October 17, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta (left) celebrates with forward PJ Tucker (4) and guard James Harden (13) after the game against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

But that seems either disingenuous or ill-conceived, because an expansion fee could be somewhere between $3-4 billion after the Houston Rockets were sold for $2.2B.

Do the math: Let’s say two expansion teams were added at $4 billion apiece, and were placed in any of a number of eligible and ready-to-go cities: Las Vegas, Seattle, Kansas City, Louisville, Virginia Beach, etc.

That would be $8 billion, and $8 billion divided among the 30 current NBA owners would amount to $266,666,666.67 apiece. Jim Dolan could buy the carcass of New York Daily News more than 266 billion times.

Basketball news has slowed to a trickle now that free agency season has all but ended, but the business side of the operation keeps on truckin’.

A deal with MGM Grand was announced a couple days ago, and the NBA is selling statistical information to that company even though it used to distribute that same information for free.

Go figure.

The eternal “Go figure?” quandary is a great place to jump off for some stories involving Schayes, who played in the NBA for 18 years and whose late father, Dolph, is in the Hall of Fame and had his number retired in Philadelphia.

From 1981 to 1999, Schayes spent time with the Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic after a strong collegiate career at Syracuse. He was on the executive board of the Players Association under Billy Hunter, he plays $5 blackjack when he finds himself at a casino and his wife is a big fan of the movie “The Big Short,” which creatively chronicles the housing bubble that burst more than a decade ago.

Interviewed on the phone Thursday after he returned home from the Maccabi Youth Games in Israel where his son, Ethan, competed, Schayes had to be cut off from telling great stories because there are word limits in the journalism business.

He does not believe the NBA will expand any time soon, though he believes there is a strong argument that they should.

Schayes said many stories about the old Boston Garden do not do the old dump justice.

“There were two showers in the visiting locker room, and one of them worked, and the other kind of spewed water. If there were two of you in there at the same time and the guy next to the far wall was done, he had to wait because there was not enough room to squeeze by. It got very intimate, unfortunately,” Schayes told

“So to get into that building, we had to enter across the street, take an elevator, then take a walkway, then navigate the corridors. To this day, I have no idea of what the outside of that building looked like.”

Jan 5, 2018; Miami, FL, USA; A skyline view of downtown Miami prior to a game between the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat at the American Airlines Arena. Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

But when it came to the absolute worst arena on the NBA map, the Schayes trophy went to the old Miami Arena, which was located about three blocks from where the Heat now play.

“We needed to get a police escort from the parking lot where the bus dropped us off into the arena, and the wives’ parking lot was surrounded by barbed wire. It was like a prison view — and God forbid you tried to go out at night after the game and tried to walk.”

That arena was demolished in 2008, but it hosted the 2000 NBA All-Star game, the 1991 WWF Royal Rumble, the 1994 NCAA Men’s Basketball East Regional Final, the NHL’s 1996 Stanley Cup Finals and the NBA’s 1997 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls. The 2001 Christmas Eve episode of WWF Monday Night Raw featuring The Rock was also held there.

“The neighborhood couldn’t have been worse at the time,” Schayes said. “At least I didn’t wake up without a kidney from the organ stealing rings that were operating down there at the time.”

Schayes had stories to tell:

  • The old Chicago Stadium: “Firetrap”
  • The San Diego Sports Arena, where the Clippers once played: “A very bad part of  town, and no Tijuana trips for me”
  • The original Arco Arena in Sacramento: “Real foggy outside. Random people would step out of the fog and say ‘You seen a red Camaro?’ It was like a horror movie”
  • Boston Garden “The clock was not centered over the basketball court, it was centered over the hockey ice, underneath one free throw line.”

You don’t want to get him started on preseason locales such as Chattanooga, Tenn, unless you want to Tweet at him.

Regarding the modern trend, even Schayes is at a loss for words, sort of, when it comes to the new normal.

“Not only are all of the old arenas all gone, the new arenas are all gone.

Danny Schayes when he played for the Phoenix Suns. Courtesy of Danny Schayes.

“When I came into the league, there were new arenas in Miami and Orlando, which were sort of the last of the generic buildings, with no wide concourses or good luxury boxes or anything like that,” Schayes said.

“Milwaukee was once too big to fill, now it’s too small. The Palace of Auburn Hills, which started the arms race, isn’t where the Pistons play anymore, and Madison Square Garden went through something like a billion in renovations … ”

“And they ruined it. The tunnel is gone,” his interviewer interjected.

“Yes, correct,” Schayes replied.

Like the passage that Willis Reed once walked through, some things disappear.

The old Pennsylvania Station in New York on land now occupied by Madison Square Garden. From Wikipedia.

Once upon a time stood a very nice building that was torn down for no good reason, leading to the foundation of the New York Landmark Preservation Commission.

The marble wreckage pieces of the old building were dumped in the swamp near the Meadowlands, where the Nets played before they moved to Brooklyn. People have dug it up.

Things change, architecture changes, mistakes are made, and sports leagues expand. We hold these truths to be self-evident.

As David Stern once said: “We like having the number of teams at a nice round 29.”

The NBA will get to 32.

It’s a matter “When and “Where.”



About Chris Sheridan

Chris Sheridan is a veteran sports journalist who previously covered the NBA for ESPN. He worked for the Associated Press for 18 years, and also served as the 76ers beat writer for Sheridan is the host of Sports Betting Tips, a podcast covering all things gambling.

Article Name
NBA Expansion and old NBA Arenas
Discussing old NBA arenas and NBA expansion, retired player Danny Schayes told stories and looked to the future in this column for

About Chris Sheridan

Chris Sheridan is a veteran sports journalist who previously covered the NBA for ESPN. He worked for the Associated Press for 18 years, and also served as the 76ers beat writer for Sheridan is the host of Sports Betting Tips, a podcast covering all things gambling.

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