The 2018-19 NBA season saw an overall league attendance of 21,964,447, which was slightly below the record-breaking figures achieved in the previous season. However, when considering reductions in arena capacity due to renovations (a total of 141,000 fewer seats were made available compared to last season), it’s fair to say that 2018-19 has been just as good, in terms of the NBA’s following, as the season prior.
Whilst season total attendances have been increasing year on year, it’s necessary to look back in the history books to discover the largest NBA individual game attendances of all time, as arenas in the league have smaller capacities these days.
The United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls, remains the current biggest in the league in terms of spectator capacity (20,917). However, even with a full crowd, it would still have only around a third of the number of spectators compared to the best ever attended game in NBA history.
Even the largest basketball arena in the world today, the Philippine Arena in Bulacan, Philippines, has a total capacity that falls well short of many of the attendances recorded at the games featured in the list below.
Take a look at the seven largest crowds in NBA history:
7. Minnesota Timberwolves vs Orlando Magic, April 13, 1990 – Attendance 45,450
In 1990, Minnesota hosted Orlando Magic at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and over 45,000 people saw the home team record a 117-102 victory. It was the last year in which this arena was used before the Timberwolves moved to their current home, the Target Center.
6. Atlanta Hawks vs Chicago Bulls, November 7, 1997 – Attendance 45,790
This game took place in the Georgia Dome, an arena which is no longer with us following its demolition in November 2017. However, during its time it witnessed some of the biggest crowds in NBA history, with the largest at the venue coming in 1997 when Atlanta Hawks defeated the Chicago Bulls by 2 points. This was the sixth highest attendance in NBA history.
5. Atlanta Hawks vs Detroit Pistons, March 30, 1988 – Attendance 47,692
Prior to using their current home of Little Caesars Arena, Detroit Pistons played at several different venues, once of which was the Pontiac Silverdome. The venue was the primary venue in the city for many leading performers and sports but it was the game between the Pistons and Atlanta Falcons which is noted for its attendance of 47,692 fans. Unfortunately for the home crowd, the Pistons narrowly lost what was a thrilling game of basketball.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves vs Denver Nuggets, April 17, 1990 – Attendance 49,551
This is second entry on the list for the Minnesota Timberwolves and once again the game was played at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. However, this is the first significant increase in attendance on the list, jumping by close to 2,000 people. The match between the Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets ended in a 10 point victory to the visitors, so much of the crowd went home unhappy with the outcome.
3. Philadelphia 76ers vs Detroit Pistons, February 14, 1987 – Attendance 52,745
Again, we see another jump of a few thousand people as we move on to the third highest attendance in the history of the NBA. It is the second time we see the now demolished Pontiac Silverdome in the list but this time the hosts were successful and pleased their fans thanks to a 125-107 win. Adrian Dantley was the standout performer on the night, scoring 35 points to lead his team to the win.
2. Detroit Pistons vs Boston Celtics, January 29, 1988 – Attendance 61,983
Just one year previous to the large attendance at the Pontiac Silverdome between the Pistons and 76ers, a new record was set for attendance at an NBA game. The venue was once again the Pontiac Silverdome but this time the visitors were the Boston Celtics. The Pistons ran out convincing winners and the game was noted for the rivalry between Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas.
1. Chicago Bulls vs Atlanta Hawks, March 27, 1998 – Attendance 62,046
Fast forward 10 years and we come to the highest recorded attendance at an NBA game as 62,046 people witnessed the Chicago Bulls defeat Atalanta Hawks at the Georgia Dome. Michael Jordan was the man who led the away team to victory and not one game since has seen a larger attendance in the league.