Itinerant Fan

AT&T Center

San Antonio, by population the seventh-largest city in the U.S. and the 25th-largest metro area as of 2013, seems like too big a region to have just one team in the “big four” professional sports leagues. But only one it has, and that team, the NBA’s Spurs, receives a region’s undivided attention. In turn, the Spurs have given their devoted fan base five championships to celebrate, the most recent coming after the 2013-14 season. So these days, the love affair between team and city is as strong as ever.

And Spurs fans have a beautiful venue in which to watch their team play. AT&T Center, which opened in 2002 as the SBC Center, feels big and spacious and almost palatial as sports arenas go. However the team is playing at any given time, the venue makes attending Spurs games a terrific experience. My visit came the season after a title was won, so the buzz surrounding a humble regular-season game remained at a pretty high pitch.

  •   The Approach

    The only problem with AT&T Center is that it’s a little far from downtown San Antonio, which if you’ve never been is quite an interesting area to visit — from the Alamo to the River Walk to the Tower of the Americas, there’s lots to see in a fairly compact area. Once upon a time, the Spurs played right in the middle of downtown, at HemisFair Arena. Then they moved to the edge of downtown and the cavernous Alamodome for 10 seasons before finally migrating a few miles east to the then-SBC Center.

    There’s nothing wrong with the site itself — it’s got a vast parking lot, freeway access is pretty simple (more on that below) and it serves its purpose well as not only the home of the Spurs but also of the annual San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo (which necessitates the Spurs going on a lengthy road trip every February). But for the visitor to San Antonio, it limits your options.

    This being Texas, you’re best off driving everywhere, which is what I did — I rented a car, drove to the game and ponied up $10 to park in an outer lot about a quarter mile away. But for a while, I investigated trying to get to the arena via public transportation, and here’s what I found: Via Transit, San Antonio’s bus service, operates park and ride service to AT&T Center from two locations — but neither are downtown, where most visitors would likely be staying. If you’re coming from downtown, one bus line, Route No. 24, travels down East Houston Street and stops at the arena. But you might be averse to waiting late at night for a bus in an unfamiliar area, and who knows if the line is (A) dependable and (B) equipped to handle large numbers of fans?

    So in the end, I ditched the idea and rented a car, and that worked out just fine. Because downtown San Antonio is surrounded by freeways, though, you have to be mindful of which route you’re taking — just be sure to look for Interstate 35 north toward Austin, then exit at AT&T Center Parkway, turn right and follow the line of cars. And if you’re within an hour and a half of tipoff, there WILL be a line of cars.

  •   The Build-Up

    Booking.com

    The other disadvantage to AT&T Center’s location is that there’s not much to do around it before the game. It’s a largely industrial area unless you go back up toward I-35, around which you’ll find a handful of fast-food restaurants and gas stations.

    But that’s OK. If you’re there really early and the gates are open, just head on inside. If it’s your first visit, you’ll be glad you did.

  •   The Ambiance

    Going in through the arena’s east entrance, I felt in a way like I was attending a fiesta-themed prom. The entrance, with a glass atrium, manicured grounds and flood and garden lights everywhere, suggested an opera house rather than a sports arena. Once inside, you’ll see multi-colored string lights hanging overhead, brightly colored walls and quite a bit of neon. It’s an interesting vibe, one you don’t often see at sports venues.

    Perhaps a more apt comparison is that AT&T Center feels a lot like a mini-football stadium in the way it’s laid out. Though its listed basketball capacity is 18,581, on par with most other NBA arenas, it feels more spacious than that. The octagonal shape of its seating bowl means it has a large upper deck, with more than 20 rows in the sections along the sidelines, and the open end “fan zone” is reminiscent of AT&T Stadium up in Arlington, where the Cowboys play.

    If it’s your first visit, definitely spend some time wandering the concourses. There’s more than one display honoring the Spurs’ five titles (including a glass case at the east entrance that contains the five Larry O’Brien trophies). You’ll also see a few knowing nods to Texas culture and the rodeo lifestyle — for example, take a close look at the bathroom signs as you’re roaming.

    There’s also an impressive array of concessions available, and this being Texas, a lot of the food items involved regular stadium dishes with some sort of interesting add-on, from loaded hot dogs to build-your-own-burritos to “extreme” nachos (beef brisket is one of the topping options!) to cheese-filled sausages. They also have Whataburger, which may sound like your run-of-the-mill regional fast food chain but is held in very high esteem by many residents in the Southwest. In the fan zone, where a LOT of fans congregate, you’ll find a hand-carved BBQ stand, a gorditas stand and a bar, and as many TVs as any self-respecting sports bar. The more I surveyed the options, the more sad I became that I had eaten before arriving.

    As much as I wouldn’t have minded hanging out all game in the fan zone — there’s a big standing-room area to view the game but it was crowded throughout — I headed up to my seat 11 rows up in Section 224 (obtained for face value, as it pays to be a single in situations like these). It felt somewhat high up, so I can only imagine what the view is like at the very top. You have a nice view of the Spurs’ five championship banners, which are just about the biggest banners I’ve ever seen hanging from the rafters anywhere, as well as banners signifying when the rodeo won best-in-the-nation status (seriously).

    The arena is actually due for a host of improvements in the coming year, but in the meantime Spurs fans seem plenty content with their team’s venue. They definitely were on this night, when the Spurs came back to beat the Wizards after trailing much of the night. And no one seemed to mind the traffic heading out of the vast parking lot.

The Particulars

Home Teams
San Antonio Spurs

Address
1 AT&T Center Parkway
San Antonio, TX 78219

Year Opened
2002

Capacity
18,418

Upcoming Events
All times local
Chris Stapleton with Marty Stuart & Brent Cobb
Friday, October 20, 2017
7:00 pm
Get tickets at SeatGeek »

Texas Stars at San Antonio Rampage
Sunday, October 22, 2017
3:00 pm
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Toronto Raptors at San Antonio Spurs
Monday, October 23, 2017
7:30 pm
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Bruno Mars with Jorja Smith
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
8:00 pm
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San Jose Barracuda at San Antonio Rampage
Friday, October 27, 2017
7:30 pm
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