Palestra Makes ESPN’s Short List of Favorite Basketball Venues

Remembering a time when the frills mattered less.

ESPN is highlighting some of its favorite college basketball venues, and of course Philly’s Palestra is on the short list. Dana O’Neill offers her memories:

Built in 1926, it’s had a few upgrades along the way, but at its essence it is the same as it always was. It is musty and dusty, and if you catch it at the right time when the upstairs windows are open and the sunlight comes in just so, almost bathed in sepia tones befitting an historical relic.

Great players from every era have stood on the court, and every sort of great game has been played there — crazy comebacks, epic upsets and impossible finishes.

The special ones were the Big 5 games. Back before the Philly schools retreated to their own corners and on-campus buildings, they would split the house and head to the Palestra. The students would break out the rollouts — unfurling snarky and occasionally nasty messages from one end of a row to another — the pep bands would find their upper-deck spots, and the place would practically breathe.

It’s not the same without those games and some of the upgrades, such as chairback seats and a new video board, are a little jarring, but the place is still special. There is enough of the old — the wooden bleacher seats up top, the windy cement ramps to the courts, the windows more fit for a church — to get the feel of it.