We've seen a lot of basketball in Newark so far...and from different vantage points. We've been to all six regular season games, all three preseason games, and the Open Practice. We watched from our preseason seats upstairs on the 200 level, from better seats at the 100 level, in sections 7, 8 and 10, behind the Cavaliers bench, and for a brief time during the Kings game in Mikhail Prokhorov's suite. We've dined in the Fire and Ice lounges and the Courtside Club, at a reception in the Acela Lounge, and from the Premio Sausage cart (yummy).
So we think we're qualified now, as the Nets leave on their first extended road trip, to give our impressions of the Prudential Center.
Sometimes, at halftime, we've simply walked around "The Rock", just to remind ourselves we're no longer at the IZOD Center.
The Prudential Center may not be the newest arena (that would be Amway Center in Orlando) or the most expensive (that will be the $904 million Barclays Center), but it is one swell place to watch...and enjoy a basketball game. From the moment you walk in, you know it. The concourses are broad, well-lit and alive with color, art and fun, like the shooting contest at the top of the PNC Bank Tower escalator. The concourses are not cracked. They don't sway under the weight of a crowd. They are not so tight that you can get a raging case of claustrophobia at game's end. Sly and Mini-Sly have room to move about, get their pictures taken with fans.
It's difficult though to say what the best part of the experience is.
It may be the convenience. We've taken the train from home, down the Raritan Valley Line, and from New York's Penn Station. Once at Penn Station Newark (after admiring the restored ceiling and wall panels at the 1930's Art Deco station), we exit left and walk to the arena. We timed it Saturday. From our seats on the train to our seats in the arena (with a stop at Premio's on the 200 level) took us 15 minutes. It used to take us that long to walk through the Tunnel at the IZOD, an experience that often reminded us of scenes from Dante's Inferno or perhaps a cattle chute at a Midwest stock yard. (Other times, we thought we heard faint German voices telling us to move on.) On the way out, we love that the monitors in the concourse all switch to the departure board at Newark Penn Station.
It may be the professionalism of the staff. Wow. The Devils do a heck of a job selecting and training the staff at The Rock. They are happy (imagine that?), helpful (no, really) and friendly ("Welcome to the Prudential Center, sir."). When we left the arena after the Pistons and Kings games,red-coated staff members at the exits were high-fiving fans and shouting, "Let's go Nets" as they got off the escalator. One group we found particularly professional: the women selling pizza at the Ice Lounge. When you find people that professional in a tiny corner of a sports facility, you know the place is extremely well run. At one game, we were trying to locate tickets left for us and the Ticket Office went out of its way to find them at another entrance.
It may be the sight lines. By opening the arena to the concourses, a common architectural feature at new arenas and stadiums, the Devils have not just focused attention on what's going on below, but given the arena a lightness and openness. You can follow the game while walking around, by peering in at the court or catching a glimpse at the many monitors scattered about. Even our seats way up top are better than our similar seats at the IZOD. We don't know if they're that much closer or closer at all, but they seem to be. And because there are multiple concourses (with escalators and elevators connecting them), you don't have to climb 75 steps to your seat at the IZOD. It was good cardio, however. At the downstairs locations we've tried, the seats are more comfortable and roomier.
But really, the best part of "The Rock" is the crowd's connection to the team. Maybe it's just the newness and the hope that comes with that. Whatever it is, we stood slack-jawed at the first game as the crowd chanted "Defense", growing louder as Devin Harris waved his arms in encouragement. It was boisterous, it was fun and it was stunning. As we told a tall Russian fellow, it was the most excited we had seen a regular season Nets crowd...like ever. He seemed pleased. The Nets have retained some of the best elements at the IZOD. Dancing Phil Tozzi is as outrageous as ever. His outfit Saturday night was off-the-charts...and he knew it. Hexing Bruce Resnick is as scary, maybe even scarier with better lighting. Gary Sussman's voice sounds richer with a new sound system...if that is technologically possible. Herb Turetzky is still keeping score....flawlessly. Also, we love the introductory video. The fans' diversity in the video is a nice touch.
There are "issues". The parking situation is bad. One lot charged more for the Heat game than for others...$30 for the privilege compared to $25 normally and $12 in East Rutherford. If you can avoid driving, do...although it's not as bad as the soul-sucking Exit 16W experience (David Aldridge's words). The concessions appear to be little pricier although we could be wrong about that. You can worry about security if you want, but the Newark P.D. and arena personnel do a very good job of crowd control and securing the area around the arena. Of course, it's still a work in progress and things get fixed though. The lack of "hustle stats" was annoying the first few games, but Saturday, there they were on the scoreboard for the first time.
We look forward to Brooklyn. Barclays Center will the Nets' home, owned by the same people who own the team. They will no longer be anyone's tenants, more than 40 years after getting their start in the Teaneck Armory. The "World's Most Expensive Arena" should also be among the world's most modern, a point of pride for the team and its fans. But we like where we're at right now. We weren't sure we would be. We love The Garden, not the Knicks. It is a special place. We were there for the preseason game in the midst of our introduction to The Rock...and perhaps our enjoyment was enhanced by the presence of two Swedish models. That's another story. There's still a difference, of course, between the two arenas, but not a yawning abyss like there was between The Garden and The IZOD. The Prudential Center is, for the next two years, going to be fine, better than fine...and if you've haven't been, you should go.