CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Emeka Okafor considered taking the trolley to work Saturday night, a luxury Charlotte's star forward now has in the Bobcats' new downtown arena.
Okafor instead chose to make the two-minute drive from his high-rise apartment, ensuring he made it in time for a red carpet celebration the Bobcats had before officially opening the $265 million facility for Saturday night's sold-out game against the Boston Celtics.
"This place is incredible," Okafor said before the game. "I'm just happy we have a place that everybody likes. The other place was not good at all."
The Bobcats played their inaugural season in the antiquated Charlotte Coliseum, a suburban facility that lacked the amenities and atmosphere found in today's NBA facilities. With fans still bitter about the Hornets' departure from Charlotte in 2002, the Bobcats struggled to draw at the Coliseum and ranked 28th in the league in attendance.
NBA commissioner David Stern, on hand for Saturday night's opening, said he was positive that would change now that the Bobcats are in their new home.
"I've taken the tour, sampled the fare, looked at the extraordinary video board -- this is one exciting building," Stern said. "You cannot miss the video board, it is simply the best in the league."
Indeed, the scoreboard is the arena's staple. Four 16-by-28-foot LED video screens hang over center court, topped by a wraparound three-dimensional sculpture of the Charlotte skyline.
Among the celebrities caught staring at it Saturday night were hip-hop artist Nelly, a part-owner in the team, who was accompanied by singer Ashanti.
Fans began filing into the arena more than two hours before the game. Once in the building, those with the pricey seats headed to the two levels of luxury suites or the fine dining restaurant at that level.
Other fans mingled on the outdoor terrace that boasts skyline views or the upper concourse where a play space for kids could be found.
"Welcome to our beautiful arena," point guard Brevin Knight told the roaring crowd right before tipoff.
Both coaches expressed concern about the emotions surrounding the evening.
For Bobcats coach Bernie Bickerstaff, who opened two different buildings in Washington as coach of the Wizards, the concern was about getting his players to channel their excitement into the game.
"I don't know what to expect tonight," he said. "I want to try to control the emotion, but I had no control."
Boston coach Doc Rivers worried that the Bobcats would outmatch his team in enthusiasm.
"I am worried about the atmosphere tonight," he said. "It can affect us. We know we are going to have to fight their energy and emotions."