Along with the oldest college football stadium in the U.S., Penn is also home to the "Cathedral of College Basketball.” The Palestra was completed in 1927 and has hosted more college basketball games than any other arena in the country. Over the years, this historic arena has been the site of numerous memorable basketball moments.
Here are the top five:
First college basketball game at the Palestra: 1927
The first college basketball game played at the Palestra was held on New Year’s Day in 1927. Penn squared off against Yale in front of 9,000 fans, which was the largest crowd for a basketball game that Philadelphia had ever seen.
The Quakers defeated the Bulldogs 26-15, led by forward Paul “Pudge” Davenport’s 11 points. Fans paid 55 cents per ticket to attend the game.
Kobe Bryant’s penultimate high school game: 1996
In the 1995-1996 PIAA Class AAAA State Eastern Final, a kid from Philadelphia named Kobe Bryant led his Lower Merion team to an overtime win over Chester High School at the Palestra. Bryant led the game with 39 points and would go on to help his team defeat Cathedral Prep in the State Championship in his final high school game before beginning his illustrious NBA career.
Bryant also played at the Palestra earlier in the season, leading his team over future NBA All-Star Richard “Rip” Hamilton’s Coatesville Area Senior High squad with 29 points in the PIAA District I Class AAAA semifinal.
NBA Lockout Scrimmage: 2011
During the NBA lockout prior to the 2011 season, a team led by a group of NBA stars including LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony, played against a team of Philly basketball stars led by NBA players Hakim Warrick, Lou Williams, and Kyle Lowry.
The game was played in front of a full house of 9,000 fans in a stifling hot Palestra, where Team Philly beat Team Melo 131-122. Some highlights of the contest included hearty boos directed at James and an appearance by the Philadelphia Eagles’ DeSean Jackson.
Inaugural Ivy League Basketball Tournaments: 2017
For years, the champion of the Ivy League in both men’s and women’s basketball was the team with the best record at the end of the regular season. In 2017, that all changed. The Palestra was the obvious choice to play host for the first-ever Ivy League basketball men’s and women’s tournaments.
Both Penn teams qualified, with the men barely earning a spot with a 6-8 conference record while the women came in as the heavy favorites after going 13-1 in Ivy play. The men almost pulled off a historic upset, taking a top-seeded Princeton team that went undefeated in conference play into overtime. The women won both of their games by double digits to become the first-ever women’s basketball Ivy League tournament champions.
Penn men’s basketball beats Villanova: 2018
A year after bowing out in the first round on their home floor, Penn men’s basketball took down top-seeded Harvard 68-65 in an instant classic to win its first Ivy League tournament. However, this was arguably only the second most electrifying game held at the Palestra in 2018.
Every year, Penn faces off against national powerhouse Villanova, who is one of their Philadelphia Big 5 opponents, and every year, Villanova seems to dominate. That all changed in 2018 when the Quakers took out the defending national champion and No. 17 ranked Wildcats 78-75 for the first time in 16 years. Fans stormed the court for the second time that year after a win that they won’t soon forget and may not see again for a long time.