A dwindling number of basketball cathedrals take us back to when it all began
This story appears in the Nov. 14 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
THE BRAND OF BASKETBALL played today by 344 Division I schools barely resembles Dr. Naismith's invention, the one that began 119 years ago with a peach basket nailed to a YMCA wall. And every time a college builds a bigger, if not better, basketball arena, some measure of history is lost. When Oregon retired McArthur Court in the middle of last season, it left college basketball with only 13 gyms built before 1940.
The arenas pictured here stand as some of basketball's oldest -- each one spanning more than seven decades. They were designed in the early 20th century in Collegiate Gothic style, back when architects focused on how lofty clerestory windows and cathedral ceilings commanded natural light, before luxury boxes and hi-def JumboTrons became the order.
The contests played on these creaky courts are largely forgotten, but to walk through these gates and settle into these seats is to remember the game's roots. Because sometimes sports aren't about results -- they're about beauty and style and being connected to something bigger than the game.
The Palestra, University of Pennsylvania
First game: Jan. 1, 1927
Each of Philly's Big 5 -- La Salle, Penn, St. Joe's, Temple and Villanova -- has called the Cathedral of College Basketball home, and Kobe and Wilt won high school titles here.
Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler University
First game: March 7, 1928
Hinkle has hosted six U.S. presidents, four pro teams and, in 1965, the USSR on its first hoops tour of America. It's also where Bobby Plump's game-winning shot gave tiny Milan High the 1954 Indiana state championship. You know, Hoosiers.
Rose Hill Gymnasium, Fordham University
Location: Bronx, N.Y.
First game: Jan. 16, 1925
D1's oldest active basketball facility, Rose Hill hasn't missed a season in 86 years, save for its stint as a World War II barracks. It's the same stone building where in 1966 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr.) played his final high school game.
Payne Whitney Gym, John J. Lee Amphitheater, Yale University
Location: New Haven, Conn.
First game: Dec. 10, 1932
For the 110th straight year, Yale will face Princeton and Columbia in the two longest-running rivalries in D1. This nine-and-a-half-story multisport facility was designed by John Russell Pope, the architect of the Jefferson Memorial.
LaRue Cook is an associate editor at ESPN The Magazine.
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