7 Midwest Destinations for Pro Basketball Fans
The Midwest has left some big sneaker prints in pro basketball history. The NBA originated in part from the National Basketball League of the 1930s and 1940s, which included several corporate teams in the Great Lakes region. Two legends, Michael Jordan and LeBron James, won championships in the Midwest. And some of the WNBA's winningest franchises and greatest players—like Tamika Catchings, Maya Moore, Candace Parker and Elena Delle Donne—have had home courts in the heartland. To see the exciting action in person, make a fast break for any of these impressive venues.
United Center, Chicago
Michael Jordan transformed the Chicago Bulls into a pro hoops dynasty, leading them to six NBA titles. Though he's passed the ball to new generations of Bulls, The House That Jordan Built still looms large on the city's west side—United Center is the largest arena (by physical size) in the U.S. Look for MJ's statue in the building' five-story atrium. At games, enjoy the dramatic player intros pioneered by the Bulls (lights off, cue Alan Parsons Project music), plus mascot Benny the Bull's acrobatic dunking and popcorn dumping (on unsuspecting fans).
Less than a mile from the United Center, Kaiser Tiger beer garden feels as big as a basketball court. And it stays open in winter, thanks to heaters and curling rinks. Catch a shuttle to the game from here.
Related: Top Things to Do in Chicago
Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, Cleveland
Thanks to heroics from superstar LeBron James (an Akron native), the Cleveland Cavaliers won their first NBA championship in 2016, giving the city its only major sports title since 1964. The current Cavs are playing their way back to greatness at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in downtown's energetic Gateway District. The stunning glass-and-steel arena boasts the nation's largest high-def scoreboard (aka the Humongotron; it spews fire), and a layout that puts 60 percent of seats close to the court in the lower bowl.
Tip-off game night at City Tap, not much more than a full-court heave from the arena. Here's their stat line: 40-plus beers on tap, about that many TV screens, cocktails by the pint glass, burgers by the half-pound, and crunchy wings in counts of five, 10 and 20.
Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee
The NBA's Milwaukee Bucks must like their new home, Fiserv Forum. After it opened in 2018, the Bucks went on a tear that culminated with the 2021 NBA championship, the team's first in 50 years. In the process, their Greek-born leader, Giannis Antetokounmpo, became a superstar. The arena features a swooping roof, extensive glass, and sleek, spacious concourses—look for an oversize buck sculpture (made from leather basketball shreds) on the 200 level. Another buck, Bango, cavorts on court as mascot. Bango's famous for daring dunks, stunts and trick shots.
Fiserv Forum anchors Deer District, a newer area full of places to eat and drink, such as The MECCA Sports Bar and Grill across from the arena. Everything's big here, including the 42-foot HDTV, 128-ounce (domestic) and 60-ounce (craft) beer towers, and 2-liter citrus mules. Even the pretzels are huge, weighing in at 10 ounces.
Wintrust Arena, Chicago
Candace Parker, who grew up in the Chicago area, returned home in 2021 to lead the Chicago Sky to their first WNBA title, cheered on by sellout crowds who turned Chi-town into SkyTown. Watch the team at Wintrust Arena on the city's near south side and toast their victories across the street at Fatpour Tap Works with cocktails like the Fatmosa and the South Side Sour.
Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
After an extended stint in the suburbs, the Detroit Pistons returned to the city in 2017, hoping to regain their early 2000s mojo—they won the 2004 NBA title. PA announcer John Mason revs up the Midtown crowd at Little Caesars Arena with his creative player intros and signature "Dee-troit Basketball" call. Hooper, a furry equine mascot wearing a Pistons jersey, supplies extra horsepower (the team was founded by a company that produced pistons for train and car engines).
If you pre-game at Harry's Detroit down the street, you can park there for free and walk to the arena. Harry's offers beers on tap from local sources such as Eastern Market Brewing Co., plus a Greek salad with a much-hankered-for house-made dressing.
Target Center, Minneapolis
Home to the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves and WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, Target Center offers pro hoops nearly year-round. Renovations completed in 2017 added a three-story glass atrium, new seating and digital signage, a state-of-the-art scoreboard, and upgrades to the sound system and restrooms. Both teams want to upgrade their recent records. The Wolves had a winning 2021-22 season—one of their best since they reached the NBA Western Conference finals in 2004—but still lack an NBA championship. The Lynx, trying to rebound after missing the playoffs in 2022, have won four WNBA titles—in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017.
Before a game, fuel up at Graze Provisions and Libations, a food hall in the North Loop (about half a mile from the arena). Sample cuisines from a variety of small businesses (like Soul Bowl and Union Hmong Kitchen) and sip hyper-local beers and craft cocktails at the Libation Lounge.
Related: Top Things to Do in Minneapolis
Gainbridge Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Long considered a top basketball venue, Gainbridge Fieldhouse is the downtown home of the NBA's Indianapolis Pacers and the WNBA's Indiana Fever. It's in the final stages of a major renovation designed to make the arena even more fan-friendly. Changes include an airier entry pavilion, more gathering spaces inside and out, and a lofty new Sky Deck among the rafters. The Pacers are still seeking their first NBA championship (they won three in the old ABA), while the Fever look to end a playoff drought after a run of success from 2010 to 2015. That included an WNBA title in 2012.
Kilroy's Bar n' Grill, a short walk from the arena, is a busy spot before and after games. Choose from a menu that includes at least two dozen Long Island Iced Teas, more than 50 shooters, and their famous stuffed breadsticks (pizza dough filled with cheese and pepperoni).
Related: Top Things to Do in Indianapolis