There’s no more storied venue in the history of college basketball than the Palestra in Philadelphia, and I was privileged to make my first visit there Saturday. My friend Jerry and I drove to the University of Pennsylvania campus to watch a men’s game in which the home Quakers dominated the Harvard Crimson for an Ivy League victory.
It was the second game in a row for us at a famous college sports venue. A couple of weeks earlier with two other friends, we watched Princeton beat Providence in men’s hockey at Hobey Baker Memorial Rink on the Princeton campus.
Baker Rink was built in 1922, named for Hobart “Hobie” Baker, a Class of 1914 graduate of Princeton who was one of the greatest athletes of that decade. He died in a plane crash in France shortly after serving with American forces in World War 1.
The first hockey game was played at Baker rink in January 1923. Princeton had a great celebration of the 100th anniversary of the rink in early January this year, and I watched the Princeton men’s team beat Dartmouth as part of the centennial events.
The Palestra (pictured at the top of this post) is known as the Cathedral of College Basketball. It was built four years after Baker rink. The two arenas have a similar classic vibe, from their brick exteriors to the narrow walkways around the entryways to the seats, to the close-in spectator access to the action on court and on ice.
Baker Rink (pictured at bottom) has a cool, if small exhibit on Hobey Baker (a portrait, his old skates, etc.) in a corner of the building. There’s also a tribute exhibit to Patty Kazmaier, an outstanding Princeton hockey player who died of a rare blood disease at age 28.
The annual awards for the top male and female college hockey players are named in memory, respectively, of Baker and Kazmaier, two remarkable Princetonians who tragically died too young.
At the Palestra, the history of Philadelphia’s “Big 5” basketball schools (Penn plus LaSalle, St. Joseph, Temple and Villanova) is nicely on display around the concourse. There’s a section on the longstanding, intense rivalry between Penn and Princeton, a series that Penn leads over the Tigers 126-120. The two played what is considered the first modern college basketball game, between two squads of five players on each side.
If your travels bring you to the New York-Philadelphia area, check out these two great college venues on two great Ivy League campuses that are an hour’s drive apart.