When the Palestra hosted its first game all the way back in 1927, the 10,000-seat arena was one of the largest indoor stadiums in the world. Today, that capacity has been downgraded to a little over 8,000, but the thousands in attendance at the Penn-Princeton men's basketball game on Tuesday night will still get one of the highest-quality experiences in all of the sport.
The Cathedral of College Basketball has seen it all over the years — including more games and more NCAA tournaments than any other venue in the game. The building has also hosted more visiting teams than any other arena.
That being said, its locker rooms are some of the smallest in college basketball, and other facilities remain outdated as well. Why would a team choose to visit a site as antiquated as the Palestra?
Let just a couple of the coaches themselves tell you.
“I loved it,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said about the state of the locker rooms when his team played there in January. “There were no WiFi outlets, no places to charge cellphones. I’d told my players they’d probably have to hang their coats on hooks and there were no hooks! I just took my jacket off, threw it on the floor and said, ‘This is the way it should be.’”
"The Palestra is unique because it's the only empty building in America that you can go in to and there's sound," Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said.
The venue has hosted the most games, but it has also hosted some of the best ones, too.
In 2011, during the NBA lockout, the Palestra hosted a game of NBA stars (including LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony) against other NBA stars who had Philadelphia connections, such as Kyle Lowry and Tyreke Evans. Surprisingly, Team Philly won on that day, but LeBron still scored 43 points.
The Palestra will also be the site of the inaugural Ivy League Basketball Tournament on March 11th and 12th. The winner of both the men's and women's tournaments will be guaranteed a spot in the Big Dance of March Madness, and the finale to the men's tournament will even be on national television leading up to the Selection Sunday show. Simply put, the Palestra will now begin again to host games that truly matter, both within the Ivy League and NCAA basketball at large.
So while the Cathedral has a storied past, this 90th birthday marks a transition to its fabled future. NCAA champions like Villanova and NBA All-Stars like LeBron James will still visit this bucket list destination, but its importance in the college basketball sphere will be renewed at last. With the advent of the Ivy League tournament, the Palestra is once again more than an artifact. Its importance in the college basketball landscape has been renewed at last.
And what better way to mark a transition to a new era than a massive upset against its hosts' biggest rival?
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