Road to the Final Four: Kansas City Isn’t Flyover Country
Kansas City hosted a thrilling all-SEC Elite Eight matchup this past weekend in the 2019 NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional Final. Auburn defeated Kentucky in overtime, ending the 2019 college basketball season in Kansas City, but the three games in the regional final were hardly the only basketball taking place in KC. This March, the town hosted 61 college basketball games, over 25 days, more than any other city in the country. But, recent experience is only one of the things that makes this cow town a great place for college basketball.
The history of college basketball in KC dates back to 1899, when James Naismith (who invented the game) brought his Kansas Jayhawks team to town to play the YMCA (I urge you to read this short article for more interesting history about that particular game, and more). Roundball in KC picked up again in 1937, when the NAIA held its first tournament in KC, an event that calls Kansas City home still today. As for the bigger divisions, Kansas City has hosted more Final Fours (10) than any other city, including, in 1964, the first of John Wooden’s UCLA championship teams. Today, the Sprint Center in KC hosts the Big 12 Championship Tournament, as well as other weekend showcases for Division 1 and more. Next door, the College Basketball Experience offers fan-friendly fun every day of the week.
The Sprint Center, opened in the heart of downtown in 2007, still feels new, as does the Kansas City Power and Light entertainment district right next door. Home to several bars and restaurants, including an offshoot of the famed Joe’s Kansas City BBQ, and the new Guy Fieri’s Dive and Taco Joint, the area is a great place to pre-game, or to raise some celebratory drinks when the contest ends. There are several hotels within walking distance, most with rates far less than what you would expect in a major city
Travel a few blocks south to the Crossroads Arts District, and you’ll discover more upscale and local restaurant options, like the new Italian and oyster bar Farina. A block away sits the new Crossroads Hotel. Wet your whistle at one of the speakeasy-style cocktail bars nearby (Swordfish Toms or Manifesto), a local distillery (Tom’s Town, voted the nation’s best craft vodka in 2017), or one of nearly 10 craft breweries in the area (Casual Animal, Brewery Emperial, Double Shift and more). Shopping, artist’s galleries, performance arts at the Kauffman Center, yeah, KC has it, and with no traffic. Try the new Streetcar, which runs from the River Market to Historic Union Station. It’s free to all riders.
I could go on about the treasures to be found in Westport and the Country Club Plaza, KCMO’s Brookside neighborhood and Johnson County on the Kansas side of State Line, but I believe I’ve made my point. With unbeatable history, big city amenities in a compact package, and topped off with Midwestern hospitality, Kansas City is not just a good place to visit for college basketball, it is the best place to watch college basketball. I invite you to come visit and prove me wrong.