Some memorable large crowds for a single game in NBA history

A general view of the game between the Chicago Bulls and the Atlanta Hawks at the Georgia Dome on March 27, 1998.

Fans have fueled the NBA’s global presence for decades. The explosion of national television ratings in the 1980s and live viewers in the 21st century each served as a springboard for the visibility of the league and its stars.

But attending the match itself remains the ultimate experience, a chance for fans young and old to witness the pinnacle of athleticism, coordination and competition in person.

The San Antonio Spurs set a new standard in that regard on Friday, when the franchise broke the NBA’s all-time attendance record for a single regular season game with 68,323 fans in attendance. The previous mark of 62,046 single-game appearances was set by the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks at the Georgia Dome in 1998.

Spurs’ entry into history happened at the old Alamodome, which hosted Spurs’ classic games from 1993 to 2002. Steve Kerr, a key player on that 1998 Bulls team, fatally coached the Visiting Warriors during Friday’s record effort in San Antonio.

“I think it’s great. I think it’s a great way to commemorate Spurs’ 50th anniversary,” Kerr said before the game. “It should be a really fun atmosphere. I think our players are really looking forward to it because none of them have played in the Alamodome.

In light of the groundbreaking accomplishments of Spurs and the NBA, here’s a look at some of the most memorable and best-attended games in league history:

Chicago Bulls vs. Atlanta Hawks

Date: March 27, 1998

Presence: 62,046

Stadium: Georgia Dome

Starting bulls: Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper, Bill Wennington

Hawks starters: Dikembe Mutombo, Steve Smith, Mookie Blaylock, Alan Henderson, Tyrone Corbin

As always, Michael Jordan proved immune to the slower pace of the 1990s, dropping 34 points on 50% shooting in Chicago’s 89-74 victory at the Georgia Dome. Mutombo filled out the stat sheet for the Hawks, who hosted the record-breaking attendance game in Atlanta. The venue was needed as the Hawks’ standard arena was under construction, as fans flocked to watch what many believed to be Jordan’s last game in Atlanta.

Kerr recalled that the combination of the location and the large number of people made it one of the most unique experiences of his basketball career.

“Yeah, that was kind of weird, mostly because a lot of the fans couldn’t see the pitch,” Kerr said. “In order to fit 62,000 fans into a dome configured for basketball, a lot of people have to sit on a side of the dome that doesn’t have a view. So they were watching the game on the scoreboard. It was kind of weird walking into the field and knowing there was a bunch of people in there who couldn’t even see you. But they were there.

2010 NBA All-Star Game

Date: February 10, 2010

Presence: 108,713

Stadium: AT&T Stadium

Eastern entrances: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson

West entrances: Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas put on an all-time NBA spectacle for its midseason showcase. Injuries to defending NBA champion Kobe Bryant and 24-year-old Chris Paul haven’t knocked out the electricity in the arena. Powered by Wade and James (who would become teammates in Miami the following season), the East outscored the West 141-139. Wade and James combined for 53 points, 17 assists and nine steals, and Wade earned MVP honors. Anthony paced the West with 27 points and 10 rebounds.

Boston Celtics vs. Detroit Pistons

Date: January 29, 1988

Presence: 61,983

Stadium: Pontiac Silverdome

Celtics starters: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge

Piston starters: Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer, Adrian Dantley, Rick Mahorn

The Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan hosted three of the biggest crowds in NBA history.

The Eastern Conference power cycle turned furiously with elite talent in the 1980s. Detroit, fresh from a heartbreaking 4-3 Conference Finals loss to Boston eight months earlier, was a hotbed of Celtic scorn and title aspirations. Fans packed the Pontiac Silverdome to witness the final chapter in this iconic rivalry. They were rewarded with vintage team basketball, as eight Pistons scored in double figures (led by Dantley’s 22) to counter Bird’s 25 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in the 125-108 win over Detroit. The Pistons and the Silverdome would headline two more top-10 games in this decade.

Denver Nuggets vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

Date: April 17, 1990

Presence: 49,551

Stadium: Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome

Nugget starters: Alex English, Fat Lever, Michael Adams, Joe Barry Carroll, Jerome Lane

Timberwolves starters: Pooh Richardson, Tony Campbell, Tyrone Corbin, Randy Breuer, Tod Murphy

Minnesota’s inaugural short stay at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome produced two games with more than 45,000 fans in attendance. The new league team led in the first half before succumbing to a combined 43 points from Adams and Lever. Corbin, acquired via the expansion draft the previous offseason, led the home team with 25 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, two steals and one block in the 99-89 loss.

Boston Celtics vs. Log Angeles Lakers

Date: May 5, 1969

Stadium: The forum

Celtics starters: Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Sam Jones, Em Bryant, Bailey Howell

Lakers starters: Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Keith Erickson, Johnny Egan

1969: Celtics shock Lakers in Game 7

The Forum’s then-record crowd of 17,568 gathered to watch one of the most epic games ever played, a win-win clash between the dynastic Boston Celtics and a star-studded Lakers team that hadn’t won. championship since leaving Minneapolis. With home-court advantage, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor all in tow, balloons were hung in anticipation of a championship in Los Angeles. Bill Russell and the Celtics had other ideas, to get ahead and finally hold LA to win by a single basket, 108-106. Russell grabbed 21 rebounds and his 11th championship in what turned out to be his very last game.

Detroit Pistons vs. Sacramento Kings

Date: November 15, 2013

Presence: 17,317

Stadium: Sleep Train Arena

Piston starters: André Drummond, Greg Monroe, Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Entrances of the kings: DeMarcus Cousins, John Salmons, Ben McLemore, Greivis Vasquez, Jason Thompson

History was written tonight, not by the players, but by the fans. The Kings faithful have combined to set a new world record for the loudest crowd roar in an indoor sports stadium, reaching 126.0 dB between the third and fourth quarters. The rating remains the highest ever in an NBA arena.

Denver Nuggets vs. Phoenix Suns

Date: October 11, 2008

Presence: 16,236

Stadium: Indian Wells Tennis Garden

Nugget starters: JR Smith, Kenyon Martin, Nene, Dahntay Jones, Anthony Carter

Starter suns: Steve Nash, Shaquille O’Neal, Grant Hill, Boris Diaw, Raja Bell

The Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets played the second outdoor preseason game in NBA history, the first since 1972.

This game was not remarkable for its attendance as much as for its location: outdoors. The Suns “hosted” the league’s first outdoor preseason game since 1972, when Hall of Famers Connie Hawkins (Phoenix) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee) faced off at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, a field baseball in Puerto Rico. This modern revival took place at Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California, though it was marred by cold evening temperatures that left Steve Nash to comment, “It was like Edmonton, Alberta, not Palm Springs.” That didn’t stop the Suns from hosting two more outdoor preseason games in subsequent years, including 2009 against rookie goaltender Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.

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