November 10, 2011
Friday's matchup between North Carolina and Michigan State on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson is certainly the most unusual venue for any college basketball game, but it's not the most atypical setting ever for a sporting event. Read on to see where I'd rank the Carrier Classic in my top 10.
1. TENNIS ON A HELIPAD:The most memorable points Andre Agassi and Roger Federer ever played against one another didn't come at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open or any other Grand Slam. None of that compared to the sight of the two tennis superstars trading ground strokes 700 feet above Dubai's Jumeirah beach in a February 2005 exhibition on the helipad on the roof of the seven-star Burj Al Arab hotel.
2. THE GREAT WALL MARATHON:Hitting the wall isn't just a figure of speech at this grueling annual marathon. A quarter of the scenic 26.2-mile route takes place on China's famed Great Wall itself, and every runner must ascend about 3,800 stone steps to reach the finish line. The course record belongs to Spaniard Salvador Calvo, who won the 2007 race in 3 hours, 23 minutes, 10 seconds.
3. THE CARRIER CLASSIC:Michigan State and North Carolina will pay tribute to the military by playing a basketball game on an aircraft carrier on Veteran's Day in San Diego. The two teams will don camouflage jerseys with U.S.A. on the back of them, and President Obama and thousands of military personnel will be in the audience. If it's sunny out, the game will take place on the flight deck. If not, it will move a level below into the air plane hangar.
4. GOLF ON GLACIERS:Golf is hard enough in picturesque 70-degree weather, so imagine how much more difficult it is when you introduce arctic conditions. That's the challenge each March in Greenland at the World Ice Golf Championships, which is played with a fluorescent orange ball and with glaciers and icebergs replacing sand traps and water as hazards.
5. THE BOYS OF WINTER:The popularity of hockey in outdoor football stadiums has steadily increased since Spartan Stadium hosted Michigan and Michigan State in 2001, but the signature event has become the NHL's Winter Classic held annually on New Year's Day. And no Winter Classic has piqued the interest of fans quite as much as the sight of the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins squaring off on the field and famed Fenway Park in 2010. Bruins fans went home satisfied: Their team won 2-1 in overtime.
6. TWO TEAMS, ONE END ZONE:A football game between Northwestern and Illinois at Wrigley Field seemed like a natural fit in 2010, but organizers failed to take into account the lack of space between the back of one end zone and the ivy-covered outfield wall. As a result, only the other end zone could be used for offense due to safety concerns, an embarrassing gaffe for the Big Ten but one that also made the game memorable.
7. THE WNBA TAKES CENTER STAGE:Kicked out of Madison Square Garden as a result of the 2004 Republican National Convention, the New York Liberty seized the opportunity to find a new venue that would bring some rare mainstream attention to the WNBA. They hosted the Detroit Shock at historic Radio City Music Hall, a venue that was especially unusual because seating there allowed fans to watch the game from only one side of the court.
8. KING OF GRASS VS. KING OF CLAY:The above image is not a trick. Tennis stars Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal really did play a 2007 exhibition match in Mallorca, Spain, on a customized half-clay, half-grass court designed to determine which of the two players was the best all-surface player. Nadal won a tightly contested three-set match much to the delight of the Spanish fans in the crowd.
9. SQUASH AT GRAND CENTRAL:How do you make one of the Professional Squash Association's most significant events more attractive to spectators? Bring it to the masses. The J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions is annually held at New York City's Grand Central Terminal in a specially constructed four-walled glass court inside Vanderbilt Hall.
10. DUEL IN THE DESERT:The Carrier Classic isn't the only outdoor basketball game in recent years. The Suns and Nuggets played the first outdoor game in modern NBA history in 2008 at Indian Wells Tennis Center in California, a 77-72 Denver victory marred by poor shooting, gusty winds and frigid desert temperatures.