The ultimate NBA travel guide for basketball fans
What is the best way for Australian basketball fans to travel across the Pacific to watch the best NBA players in the biggest NBA teams? We're glad you asked.
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The US regularly ranks as one of the three most popular overseas destinations for Australians. Whether we like to admit it or not, there is something about the US that fascinates us. It's an allure or an infatuation that Aussies can't get enough of.
Is it the history behind each city? Or Disneyland? No, wait, Disney World? The natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon? Well perhaps it's the sport, because there is no better basketball league in the world than the NBA.
Australians can't get enough of the NBA and that's not just watching it live on Kayo Sports. In fact ticketing giant StubHub's data shows Australia buys more tickets than any other country outside the US for NBA games. As a result, Finder has created the ultimate NBA travel guide.
Your NBA itinerary planner
Your humble writer spent three months of 2018/19 travelling around the US watching every sporting match possible. Fortunately for you, it means I have all the hidden tips and tricks to ensure the best NBA travel experiences.
The upcoming 2019/20 NBA season may genuinely be the most anticipated ever. Gone are the days of the big threes, it's all about duos now.
The craze of the NBA off-season now sees the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, James Harden and Russel Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant teaming up.
The Warriors now have D'Angelo Russell, Al Horford is on the 76ers and the rookie whose name everybody knows, Zion Williamson, was drafted by the Pelicans.
You could see all of them play and more in the space of 24 days with our specially designed NBA travel itinerary.
NBA games schedule
|25 December, Christmas Day||Golden State Warriors||Chase Center||5:00 PM|
|28 December||LA Clippers vs Utah Jazz||Staples Center||10:30 PM|
|29 December||LA Lakers vs Dallas Mavericks||Staples Center||9:30 PM|
|1 January, New Years Day||New York Knicks vs Portland Trail Blazers||Madison Square Garden||7:30 PM|
|4 January||Brooklyn Nets vs Toronto Raptors||Barclays Center||6:00 PM|
|9 January||Philadelphia 76ers vs Boston Celtics||Wells Fargo Center||7:00 PM|
|10 January||Washington Wizards vs Atlanta Hawks||Capital One Arena||7:00 PM|
|12 January||Washington Wizards vs Utah Jazz||Capital One Arena||3:30 PM|
|16 January||New Orleans Pelicans vs Utah Jazz||Smoothie King Center||8:00 PM|
|18 January||New Orleans Pelicans vs LA Clippers||Smoothie King Center||3:30 PM|
The above is an absolutely stacked travel schedule in terms of seeing quality NBA games in one travel trip. If you were to follow this guide completely, you'd see a total of 14 NBA All-Stars from last year. That's after discounting the absence of star players Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, who'll both still be injured during this time frame.
There are plenty of rising young stars you'll see, too. This includes Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum and Kristaps Porzingis. So you've got everything you could possibly ask for covered.
The other perfect thing about these dates is that it typically fits into many enforced holiday periods. It's also suitable for families as it fits inside the school holidays.
Maybe the only downside is that it's right in the middle of winter there. Yet this is pretty much unavoidable given the NBA season dates. And who doesn't want to try for a chance of a white Christmas period?
How to convince your partner to do an NBA travel package
Now if you plan to take this trip with your partner, a friend or family members who aren't NBA fans, here's how you can sell it to them:
Things to do in the US
NBA travel guide: San Francisco
Fly into San Francisco whenever you want. Hire an electric Jump bike from Uber and cycle around the city. Go all the way across the Golden Gate Bridge and up through the hills. Sign up for a tour to explore Alcatraz. Ride on a cable car down to Pier 39.
Then take in the thrill of an NBA game on Christmas Day at the brand new Chase Center. Two-time MVP Stephen Curry's Warriors will be sure to have a shootout against James Harden's Rockets.
A special recommendation to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles is to hire a car and drive the stunning Highway 1. This will stretch your travel time out and is best done over two days, but the California coastline is well worth it.
Alcatraz Bike Tour with Ferry
Golden Gate Bridge Walkng Tour
Highway 1: NBA travel guide
Take your car down Highway 1 and stop at the gorgeous Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey. It's regularly voted as one of the top places to visit in the US, not just in California.
Your drive will also take you around the famous Pebble Beach golf course. If nature's more your thing you'll love driving through Big Sur. Potentially the most Instagrammable stretch of road in the world.
Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea Private Tour
Carmel-by-the Sea Driving Audio Tour
Los Angeles: NBA travel guide
There are a thousand things to do in LA. Walk along Santa Monica Pier and across to Venice Beach. Stroll Hollywood Boulevard to visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Stretch your legs by hiking up to the Hollywood sign and then across to the Griffith Observatory. You're also smack bang on top of Universal Studios and not too far away from Disneyland (we may even have some discount tickets).
The beauty of LA is that it has two NBA teams and both play out of one building, Staples Center.
LA Clippers landed the most coveted name of the off-season signing Kawhi Leonard, then traded for superstar Paul George. See them duke it out with Aussies Joe Ingles and Dante Exum of the Utah Jazz in a Western Conference showcase.
LeBron James is the biggest name in basketball. You'll be able to see him in the purple and gold with running mate Anthony Davis as they take on the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs are no slouch, given the side have reigning rookie of the year Luka Doncic.
Los Angeles Hop-On Hop-Off Double-Decker Bus Tour
Hollywood Food Tour
New York City: NBA travel guide
Watch the ball drop in Times Square on New Year's Eve while you bring in 2020. That's almost a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Big Apple is one of the most popular cities in the world. A week in one place could sound like overkill to some, but New York is no regular city.
There are way too many things to list but the highlights in our opinion are Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and 9/11 Memorial.
It's true that the New York Knicks may not be the best NBA side. However, they're still the most valuable franchise worth a whopping US$4 billion. The Knicks at least have rookie RJ Barrett, who's worth the watch.
The bigger sell is that the Knicks are playing Portland in the famous Madison Square Garden. If you haven't seen the Trail Blazers star point-guard Damian Lillard on the court maybe you've heard him drop some bars as Dame D.O.L.L.A.
Another city blessed with two NBA sides, New York also has The Brooklyn Nets. Typically the little brother, but now they have their own identity as one of the NBA's big teams. Australia-born Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant landed with the Nets this off-season. You can see them take on the reigning champions, the Toronto Raptors, while you're there.
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Tour
New York City Day Tour
Philadelphia: NBA travel guide
Philly is perfect for history buffs. This is the city where US independence began and where the constitution was signed. You can also do your best Rocky impression on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The 76ers are a great chance of contesting for the NBA Championship. In Philadelphia, the crowd is also quite loud and rowdy. Australian All-Star Ben Simmons is the lead guard and Joel Embiid is not only a superstar, but the most fun player in the league.
The Boston Celtics will be in town for a big rivalry match. Al Horford departed the Celtics for the Sixers, which only means heightened drama. Boston now have Kemba Walker and several other young stars.
Philadelphia Old City Walking Tour
Dinner Cruise with Buffet
Washington DC: NBA travel guide
In the US capital you'll want to make sure you see Donald Trump's residence, the White House. There's also a lot of history rooted in the DC. The Smithsonian Museums, Washington Monument, Holocaust Museum and the Lincoln Memorial are all incredible.
Outside of star Bradley Beal, the Wizards are a little flawed. To be honest, a game here is perfect for someone doing the NBA travel itinerary as it means cheaper tickets. There's a chance to see them play either the Utah Jazz or Atlanta Hawks.
White House and Lincoln Memorial Tour
Washington DC Electric Bike Tours
New Orleans: NBA travel guide
Eat your heart out in NOLA, with its famed creole cuisine. New Orleans is perfect for foodies as it has its own unique blends of famous dishes, comprised of several cultures. There's also the world famous beignets from Cafe Du Monde.
Head into the French Quarter and listen to jazz music on Bourbon Street. The calendar also lines up perfectly for you to arrive in New Orleans for the weekend, so you can party till you drop.
Zion Williamson is the most watched and maybe most hyped rookie ever. Lonzo Ball also wound up in the Bayou over the summer. Watching someone of Zion's size move so nimbly in the flesh is incredible.
There are blockbuster match-ups against both the LA Clippers and Utah Jazz during the dates, too. So you can launch on tickets for both games or opt for one match but with better seats.
Now this may be where our schedule ends, but it doesn't have to be where yours does. You can continue your journey to any other city that piques your interest or to catch more games.
Finishing off in New Orleans is perfect as you're in the middle of the US. It leaves you plenty of flexibility. You're right next to Texas or a short flight to Las Vegas. But if you want to come home, you can always break up the trip and head to Hawaii. This will help you shift back from winter to summer conditions more smoothly.
Start searching for your NBA travel trip right now:
What to do about getting NBA tickets
Sourcing your NBA tickets may seem like a hard task. Buying tickets from overseas websites you aren't familiar with can be daunting. You really don't have anything to worry about as there are several reliable NBA ticket sellers.
The two biggest sellers are StubHub and Ticketmaster. To explore all your options read up on our guide for Australians buying NBA tickets. It has all the answers to questions such as whether you should buy them before you leave and how to get the best value.
NBA travel hidden secret tips
Avoid extras and get in early
One of the things I personally found best was to avoid paying for extras. Teams offer special packages to big groups that buy tickets. These range from being allowed on the floor while players warm up hours before games, to getting to high five players on their way out of the tunnel.
When a team has leftover tickets for these events, it offers them as extras to your single game tickets. Now while these are definitely pretty unique and cool experiences, I found a way around it.
If you turn up to the arena either as the doors open or just after, you often get lucky. The security guards will let you right down near courtside regardless of your ticket type. Players from both sides usually come over and take pictures or sign autographs.
The other key thing is to make friends with the security guards. I was blessed to have met an awesome usher at a Dallas Mavericks home game. After having a chat with him for a while, he seemed really impressed that an Australian had come so far across the world to watch Dallas.
He then let me go right behind where the commentators sit, which was where I got to meet Mavericks team owner and billionaire Mark Cuban and high five the entire team on the way out. I was like a kid on Christmas morning and was grinning from ear to ear.
Oh, one more thing to remember. Those who arrive first are usually the people who're selected to participate in timeout or half-time competitions and are chosen for free seat upgrades.
As I've been stressing throughout, tickets don't always come cheap. You'll be sure to take the cheapest seats you can at some games, to stretch your budget further. Keep your eyes open though for seats in the lower bowl that stay empty.
This isn't always a guarantee to work, but I only had one instance where I had to go back to my original seats. I was still pretty happy to have watched a whole quarter of Celtics vs Bucks from three rows behind the basket.
My best result doing this was at a Denver Nuggets home game. I paid $14 for the nosebleed section, but had noticed some empty seats together in the lower bowl. After the first quarter I sneaked down and was seated in the middle of the court maybe 12 rows back.
Check out the difference!
Watch the NBA
If you're going to commit to going to the other side of the world for an NBA holiday, then you'd be silly not to keep up with the season. Kayo Sports has an average of seven live NBA games per week, as well as the best streaming experience and feature set available in Australia. It airs NBA Playoffs, NBA Draft, NBA All-Star weekend, NBL, WNBL and Boomers games, too, as well as 50 other sports live. You can sign up here with a 14-day free trial and watch the NBA.
Getting around during your NBA trip
With this NBA trip you'll obviously need to catch a few flights. It's important to remember that most US airlines don't add on your baggage fee till you check in and it's typically around US$30.
Now everybody is different when it comes to a preferred mode of transport when overseas. If you prefer to drive, an unrestricted Australian driver's licence will make you eligible to operate a hire car. But you'll constantly need to remind yourself to drive on the right side of the road.
Once you're in a city you've got the option of running the gauntlet with public transport. Be warned though some cities are way easier than others to get around. Like anywhere in the world some places can feel safer than others too. Surprisingly the price for public transport isn't always as cheap as other transport alternatives.
In addition to Uber, the US also has Lyft as a rideshare service. It's virtually an identical service and most of the drivers work for both companies. This is a safe option to use and is probably the most accurate for trip price and time.
Something that's quite interesting in several of the cities that you will visit is the electric scooters and bikes available to use. There are numerous companies and it can vary by city. You simply download the required app, put in some payment details and are set to go. This was definitely the most fun way to get around.
Essentials for your NBA travel
If you're attending the games, then you might as well embrace it and look the piece. Pick up your favourite team's jersey. You can land one at rebel, JD Sports or Nike. The NBA is all about style off the court too, especially players' shoe game. You could get your hands on LeBron James kicks or maybe you prefer Kyrie Irving's sneakers.
NBA travel insurance
The US has a different medical set-up to Australia. If something were to go wrong and you had to stay in a hospital overnight the bed alone costs up to US$750. Travel insurance costs just a few dollars a day, so give yourself some peace of mind and get a travel insurance quote for the USA.
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