Image source: Flickr - Matt C
The Super Bowl is history and now it's time to get serious about college hoops. One way to do that is take a trip to Kansas City, arguably one of the most passionate basketball communities in the world.
That's in part because James Naismith, the guy who invented the game, began the first college program a few miles away at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Those Rock Chalk Jayhawks have been a powerhouse since Day 1.
But more importantly, Kansas City is your destination for March Madness because it was here in Municipal Auditorium in 1952 that the NCAA as we know it today was born. Sure, the NCAA headquarters is now in Indianapolis, but the first Final Fours were held here, and over the years Kansas City has hosted more Final Fours that any other city in the U.S.
During your Kansas City getaway, take a day trip over to Lawrence, Kansas to the Hall of Athletics on James Naismith Drive on the KU campus. This is where you can see James Naismith's original handwritten copy of the rules of basketball. There's an exhibit on Wilt Chamberlain, who played ball for KU, as well as the original court of Allen Fieldhouse, where Naismith coached.
While in Lawrence, you may also want to pay your respects to Mr. Naismith at Lawrence Memorial Park Cemetery. His final resting place is marked with a statue of the man holding a basketball under one arm and a stack of textbooks under another.
Kansas City hotel rooms fill up fast during March, so book early to get a room at the 816 Hotel, a boutique property with themed rooms in Westport. One of those rooms even has a basketball hoop in it! It's the room dedicated to the University of Missouri Kansas City, a Division 1 school with a Kangaroo as a mascot. That's a whole 'nother story, but the cool thing that you'll see and learn when staying in the UMKC room is that Walt Disney, while a student at the Kansas City Art Institute, drew the first kangaroo image for UMKC athletics. Some people say the marsupial looks quite a bit like a mouse.
Then, get yourself downtown to an attraction called The College Basketball Experience. It's tempting to call this place a museum, but it is so NOT a museum. Do you leave most museums all sweaty and smelly?
The College Basketball Experience, an undertaking of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, brings visitors into the excitement of a college basketball game while fans cheer, coaches shout, and pep bands play. Visitors can choose to be a coach, a player, or a fan in some of the biggest moments in the history of college hoops.
The experience begins as you ride the elevator to the second floor and hear the coach shouting a few last words of encouragement before leaving the locker room. Then the doors open, the pep band plays, the crowd cheers, and your heart starts pumping.
Shoot a 3-pointer, slam a dunk, see how high you can jump, and then read about record-holders and NCAA rules governing such behavior. Practice your free throw and compare your shoe size to Shaquille O'Neal's.
Bring a few friends along and work the court in a friendly or not-so-friendly pick-up game. Cruise the NCAA Coaches Hall of Fame, and take time to read some of the history of the game on the walls and in nearby kiosks.
Here's the fun part that you just can't do on any old basketball court: sit at the anchor desk of the real ESPN Sports Center and read highlights from your favorite game. Although SportsCenter is indeed based in Bristol, Connecticut, the television studio in the College Basketball Experience is for real and capable of live ESPN broadcasts at any time. You can record yourself and a friend bantering about the game, upload it to YouTube, and share your talents with the world!
The College Basketball Experience is in the midst of an entertainment area called the Power & Light District. Filled with great restaurants and dozens of bars, this is the place to be during the tournaments. City officials close Grand Avenue, the major thoroughfare in this part of town, and set up basketball goals and other fun activities to continue the celebration into the wee hours.
It's just how crazy they are about basketball in Kansas City.
Tip: Tickets to any major sporting event can run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars. If you're planning a March Madness tournament experience, make sure your travel insurance will cover the cost of those tickets if something prohibits you from making it to the game.
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A Midwest farm girl at heart, Diana Lambdin Meyer caught the roaming bug early in life. Diana married well - to a photographer who also has the travel bug and whose work in still and video complements her words. Now based in the Kansas City area, Diana is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers who makes a full-time living on the road and at the keyboard. Read about Diana's adventures on her blog, Mojotraveler or follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.
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