The Detroit Pistons have four courts. Twenty-three NBA teams have at least one alternate court. As the embracing of NBA’s City Edition uniform tradition continues, NBA teams have started going all-in on matching their arena court to the uniform. They’re picking up and putting down the floor for nearly every game anyway, so why not use something different each time? The City Edition gives just one of those reasons, but so does matching the Icon, Association, Classic and Statement uniform choices.
“One of the things that makes the NBA unique in professional sports is that the court is both functional athletic equipment protecting the players and a part of the visual aesthetic of the game for the fans,” says John Ficks, Robbins Floor sales and marketing manager. “Ideally a team should have different floors for different jerseys. It adds variety and spice to the game for both the players and the fans.”
Robbins is one of three key portable court providers for the NBA, along with Connor Sports and Horner.
“The NBA court is essentially a blank canvas for our teams to express their brand,” says Christopher Arena, head of on court and brand partnerships for the NBA, “and while the rules of the game and practicality of broadcast place some guardrails on what can be done, we believe our teams have only scratched the surface of the creative opportunities the court can provide.”
Gary Gray, Connor Sports portable sales manager, says the latest trends include variations in tinting and staining of floors, especially the use of designs and patterns within the three-point arc, whether a honeycomb in Charlotte or a pelican silhouette in New Orleans.
“Staining the entire surface has become increasingly popular,” says Ficks. “Floors use different color stains to add contrast to certain areas. We now see several completely stained courts in the league that changes the overall wood tone of the floor.”
Arena says NBA teams are embracing colors that provide a link to team uniform or design identities, along with wood configurations where “teams are utilizing the apron to integrate design elements and using stain to tonally express details related to the uniform.”
While the Pistons have four floor options and the Brooklyn Nets feature three complete floors, Gray notes that many teams can mix-and-match alternate panels for the center logo and baseline, creating a more cost effective way to “give the fans the feeling of a new or different court.”
The 2022-23 season launch of City Edition uniforms allows teams to time the release of related court designs. Twenty NBA teams unveiled a City Edition floor, whether a completely new court or, as Gray mentioned, alternate panels for a slightly different approach.
“There is a direct link to the redefining of our uniforms into Editions and, specifically, the Nike NBA City Edition program that typically results in a uniform design that is not always within the colors of the core team identity,” Arena says.
Key City Edition designs include the Atlanta Hawks bringing in black throughout a new floor for a peach-themed design; Charlotte opting for a dark stain with a colorful three-point area for its Buzz City look; Philadelphia going old-school with dark stain and a red apron; Phoenix offering a regionally inspired center logo with a desert landscape along the sideline; Dallas keeping the city skyline intact with a lightened stain and plenty of green; Minnesota dropping its green for a rainbow of colors; and Washington embracing flower petals aplenty. Golden State, San Antonio, Toronto, New York, Orlando and Miami opted for black-based updates while Houston and Milwaukee changed to blue.
While the alternate court craze has grown—estimates range from $75,000 to $150,000 for an entirely new court—well beyond when Golden State and Milwaukee were the first teams to have a second floor, the way NBA courts are made haven’t changed much. Simply tromp through the forests of the Upper Midwest and you’ll find plenty of acer saccharum, known as hard maple, which makes up 29 of the 30 NBA hardwood courts (Boston still uses red oak in a parquet pattern as the only outlier, a court they resanded, repainted and restained this offseason).
The maple, with its tight grain, is harder than other hardwood, giving it the durability needed to withstand NBA seasons and the roughly 70 floor conversions an arena goes through each year. The lightness of the wood helps provide contrast against the ball while helping reflect light within the arena. Of course, with the push toward increased use of stains and paints, we’re seeing a range of shades throughout the league, whether grey in Brooklyn, the greyish parquet pattern in Orlando or the greying of the wood in Dallas.
When teams propose a concept, whether color, stain or wood configuration, that the league hasn’t seen before, the NBA tests the idea to ensure suitability for television or in-arena viewing.
Maple hardwood floor pieces get graded by the Maple Flooring Manufacturing Association and mixing the first, second and third grades of wood can help create specific looks of an NBA floor. The flooring strips typically come just thicker than ¾ of an inch, a dimension that has remained constant since maple flooring was first produced in the late 1800s. If a team, for example, wants a lighter floor, a manufacturer can craft out of first grade and then finish it to enhance and preserve the color. If teams want a multi-grade look, using first-grade maple in the center may get framed by third grade around the perimeter.
Not only can the differing woods provide looks around the court, but other floors, such as the parquet pattern in Orlando and Boston or the herringbone in Brooklyn, offer patterns simply by placing differing grades of wood together on the 94-foot-by-50-foot playing surface.
No matter the staining or painting, the final finish on a floor is a high-gloss polyurethane for the best available grip, reapplied every season.
Below the hardwood comes plenty of company-specific creation as well, with subflooring systems consisting of everything from plywood construction to specialized cushioning systems. The floor panels fit together with a wood and steel tongue-in-groove system, using metal pins in the steel to anchor each panel to its neighbor, allowing the removal and installation of floors before and after NBA games to make room for other events. Or other courts.
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