Basketball has always been one of the most popular sports in Slovenia, even before we got independent in 1991. Slovenia also has a really strong fan base especially when it comes to national teams. So it is not a surprise that many people wanted to see a game between Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks. I did mention in the first post about this trip that two of the best players from Slovenia play in these two clubs. Despite that, I was still surprised how many people decided to make the journey overseas just for this purpose.
The anticipation was increasing as well as the excitement. There are more ways how to get to American Airlines Arena. We chose to take an Uber since it took the least amount of time and the price was not that high as well since four of was shared the ride. This kind of transportation for the game is quite popular. I noticed that because there is even a drop off zone next to the arena dedicated just for Uber.
We came prepared for the game as well. The biggest thanks go to a guy who kinda organized this mass migration. Thanks to him lots of people got game tickets and cheap flights as well. On top of that he teamed up with some other people and they created a special t-shirt and a scarf just for this event! They distributed it to various locations around Slovenia. I went to pick them up for us because I was free that day. We knew that we had to be there right at the opening time because the number of t-shirts was limited but luckily we got them.
【I did some exploring of Miami on my own in the morning before the game as well. Check it out here】
◈ Pre-game ◈
We arrived at the arena at about 5:30 pm. The door for the game opened at 6:30 pm so we had about an hour to spare. The American Airlines Arena opened in 1999 and it still looks very modern. An interesting fact is that Dallas Mavericks play their home games in American Airlines Center. So that is another thing in common between these two teams.
The weather was quite cloudy but we still decided to go for a walk around the arena. Around halfway it did start raining. Miami’s climate is classified as a tropical monsoon climate. Places that have that kind of climate receive a lot of rain throughout the year. Luckily, the months of March and April receive a lot less rain than in the summer months. It did definitely remind me of tropical downpours that I experienced in Asia on my previous trips. Fortunately, there are a lot of covered areas around the arena. We did not have any umbrellas with us as they are not permitted in the arena. At least we did not get that wet and we thought that it was over. We were wrong.
The rain was on and off for some time. The doors opened right on the time. People started lining up to get in and the line broke apart a couple of times before they started letting people in. That was because it started raining again so people went to take cover once again. The security check is out in the open without any cover. So we then waited in the line under the rain and got quite wet. At least the weather was quite warm still so that was not that big of a problem.
◈ Exploring the Arena ◈
The American Airlines Arena is huge! With about 19,600 seats it is the 9th biggest arena in NBA. It was the biggest arena that I have been to as well (previously biggest was Sinan Erdem Dome in Istanbul with a seating capacity of around 16 thousand). With this amount of seating, it has to have a lot of food options and other things right?
I have to admit that compared to sports arenas in Europe this one had a lot more things to offer. For example, the biggest arena in my country has a seating capacity of about 14 thousand and yet it does not offer much besides the standard snacks and hot dog. Here on the other side, it was completely the opposite. I think that I counted more than a dozen unique food options (some were placed in different sectors). They had everything from your regular snacks, hot dogs burgers to foods such as pizza, and even noodles!
We went to order some pizza first. This is actually a chain pizza place called Papa John’s so something similar to Domino’s or Pizza Hut. There was quite a long line but as with everything in Miami, this one was moving quite fast as well. They had 3 different options (cheese, pepperoni, or vegetarian). We all ordered pepperoni pizzas.
Unfortunately, I do not remember the price of it but it was definitely more expensive than at regular Papa John’s place. You get the pizza in a smaller than a regular pizza box. That makes it very easy to eat it while watching the game. I could not take a proper photo of it because it was too dark so I only took a photo of the box. Was it worth the price? Well, the taste was actually quite good. I had much better pizzas in my life of course but I also had worse too.
◈ The game ◈
This is a blog/website about traveling so that is why I will not write much statistics about the game. It was definitely one of my best experiences I had so far. Slovene fans definitely contributed to a better atmosphere. Actually, a lot of local fans did not really know what was happening because as you might know cheering at sports games in Europe and the US is on a completely different level. Miami Heat won at the end 105:99. Both Slovene players played really well, especially Goran Dragić who achieved his only 2nd triple-double in his then 11th season in the NBA. This was also the last game where two basketball legends Dirk Nowitzki and Dwayne Wade faced each other because they both ended their career in 2019.
The game has ended after around 2 hours but a few thousand of us Slovene fans stayed and we kept on cheering. Security got a bit confused because at first, they did not know what to do with us since they have never encountered a situation like this before. Once they noticed that we are harmless they let us stay there for a bit longer and wait if we could get Dragić and Dončić to came back on the court and they both did. They both had games in the next couple of days so they were not able to stay that long. Dragić as our former national team captain (he retired after Slovenia won Eurobasket in 2017) took a microphone and even had some fun time with us fans as well. Just what you would expect from such a great player.
We were out at about 10 pm. I noticed that they closed practically the whole avenue in front of the arena and turned it into a parking space. We walked a few blocks away from the arena to order an Uber back to our Airbnb because otherwise, it would be quite difficult to get one or find it.
As we were leaving the venue we said to each other that this should not be the last mass migration of Slovene fans to an NBA game. We were planning on repeating that in the 2019/2020 season but everyone who is reading this can guess that did not happen because of the pandemic.