Explore New York City

Feel the Spirit: Great Sports Venues of NYC

A look at the history behind the great fields and stadiums of NYC.

Whether completely empty or packed with enthusiastic fans, a renowned athletic arena breathes a life of its own, much like a famous theater or historical landmark. There is an immediate vibe upon entry. The memories produce tingles of excitement and nostalgia; the ghosts of greatness seem to call out. New York City has a rich history in this arena across the sports landscape.

Baseball

Old/New Yankees Stadium: When the original Yankee Stadium opened in 1923, it was christened The House That Ruth Built because slugger Babe Ruth’s home run prowess put enough cash in the coffers to construct it. Innumerable highlights would follow in the architectural masterpiece, which was the first stadium to feature three decks of grandstands. Over the years, it was identified by Monument Park, the legendary facade around the upper deck and public address announcer Bob Sheppard’s distinguished voice. It was home to Hall of Fame royalty Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle, and backdrop for iconic moments such as Gehrig’s tearful farewell speech. When it closed in 2008, it had played host to 37 World Series. 

The Derek Jeter-led Yanks immediately established a winning tradition in the new stadium by winning the 2009 World Series. The updated version, built across the street from the original, maintained much the same look but with added amenities. The Stadium also hosts the MLS New York City FC and college football’s Pinstripe Bowl.

Citi Field, home of the New York Mets.
Citi Field, home of the New York Mets (Courtesy Citi Field)

Shea Stadium/Citi Field: Opening in the shadow of the 1964 World’s Fair amid a new excitement in America, Shea Stadium reflected a young Mets team that had played its first two years in the old Polo Grounds. The Beatles invaded one year later, and other legendary rock bands graced the Flushing Meadows palace in addition to Pope John Paul II.

Shea debuted on April 17, 1964 (the Mets lost to Pittsburgh, 4-3), featuring 21 escalators and a gigantic outfield scoreboard that provided information and entertainment.

In 1981, a Big Apple Top Hat in center field began surfacing after each Mets homer. “The Amazin’” became hometown heroes when they won the World Series in 1969, a year that started with Joe Namath and the New York Jets—another Shea tenant—shocking the world by winning Super Bowl III in Miami.

In 1975, the Mets, Jets, Giants and Yankees played at Shea during Yankee Stadium’s renovation, marking the only year two MLB and NFL teams ever shared the same stadium. Citi Field, a shrine to NYC National League baseball, opened in 2009. Numerous clubs and restaurants, a food court and concessions provide good eats and refreshments. Both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field offer tours, even during off-season.

Serena Williams at the 2015 Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center,
Serena Williams at the 2015 Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (©USTA/Pete Staples)

Tennis

West Side Tennis Club/USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center: The US Open moved from Rhode Island to Forest Hill’s West Side Tennis Club in 1915. After moving to Philadelphia for three years, the Open returned in 1924 to a newly constructed West Side Tennis Club, a 15,000-seat U-shaped stadium with grass courts.

In 1978, the event moved to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park as the USTA National Tennis Center opened near Shea Stadium. It was renamed in 2006 to honor tennis great Billie Jean King.

The three-stadium complex includes Arthur Ashe Stadium as the event’s main venue and the Grandstand which seats 6,000. While the playing surface has changed from grass to clay to its current hard-court status, one constant has been outstanding play. The 21st century has belonged mainly to Venus and Serena Williams, sisters who each won two crowns between 1999 and 2002, beating each other in the finals one time apiece. Serena has won four more since, including three from 2012 to 2014.

The Knicks at Madison Square Garden
The New York Knicks play at Madison Square Garden (©Anna Has)

Basketball

Madison Square Garden: Sitting above the railroad tracks of Penn Station, Madison Square Garden has seen it all.  

MSG, as it is called, has been known for years as the “mecca of basketball,” and yet the historic first Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight took place there in 1971 with Frank Sinatra shooting ringside photos for Life magazine.Sinatra made his comeback “Main Event” televised concert there in 1974, while such historic shows as George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, the post-9/11 Concert for New York City and the Concert for Sandy Relief also took center stage.

Hockey's New York Rangers, Ringling Brothers Circus, Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and four presidential conventions also called the Garden home, making it easy to see why it’s known as “The World’s Most Famous Arena.” With its famed concave ceiling, the current structure—the first was built in 1879—opened in 1968 at 4 Pennsylvania Plaza in Midtown. Take the Madison Square Garden All-Access Tour to get a look inside the Knicks locker rooms and spectacular vista points around the huge complex.

In college basketball circles, the Garden plays host to the St. John’s Red Storm, the NIT Final Four and the Big East Tournament.

In the 1970 NBA finals, a frozen-in-time moment occurred when injured captain Willis Reed hobbled from the locker room and made his first two shots in Game 7 as the Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers for their first NBA championship. The 1993 playoff series with the Chicago Bulls produced “The Dunk,” when John Starks threw down a ferocious left-handed slam over Michael Jordan and Horace Grant. The Knicks lost the 1994 finals to Houston in seven games as MSG became part of one of the most bizarre television nights in American history. As Game 5 unfolded, O.J. Simpson went on his low-speed freeway chase with the Los Angeles police. NBC affiliates began running split-screen coverage of both the game and the chase taking place 3,000 miles away.