College basketball fans are acting like colorful arena floors are a modern invention, with a lineage traced directly from the painted foliage at Oregon’s Matthew Knight Arena to the Life of Pi theme at Florida International. But eye-popping basketball courts were – and doesn’t it seem obvious in retrospect? – a product of the freewheeling 1970s.
Right around the corner from the Bicentennial, an artist named Robert Indiana was commissioned to create a new court design for the Milwaukee Bucks. He created what amounts to a massive pop-art painting for the Milwaukee Exposition and Convention Center and Arena, adorning the center of the court with the building’s acronymic nickname: MECCA.
What’s this have to do with college hoops? I hear you asking, once again.
Well, Marquette called the building home as well. From 1977 to 1988, when both teams moved to the Bradley Center, the then-Warriors dribbled, passed and dunked on a floor that resembled the national flag of a small island nation.
Fast Company magazine has the story of the resurrection of the MECCA floor:
At a time when sports were more aesthetically practical, Indiana painted the court bright yellow (“At first, I thought we had to wear sunglasses because it was so bright,” former Bucks coach Don Nelson once commented), and he featured the arena’s name, MECCA, large enough so that TV cameras couldn’t miss it. He signed the court, like a painting, on one of its baselines.
The MECCA floor will be reassembled and displayed as a work of art at U.S. Cellular Arena soon. As you watch the mountains closing in on the Colorado Buffs or try to locate players on UCF’s greyscale floor this season, take a moment to thank, or curse Robert Indiana and MECCA as befits your own aesthetic sense.