The Washington Wizards were banking on a number of constituencies to pack Baltimore Arena for Thursday night's exhibition game against Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks -- and they couldn't have been disappointed.
The one-time home of the former Baltimore Bullets wasn't filled to the rafters, but the game drew a large, enthusiastic crowd that included a lot of fans who showed up to watch an improved Wizards team in a very intimate setting and even more who came to cheer on Anthony (Towson Catholic) and the Knicks.
No great surprise there. New York fans travel well, and Baltimore has become a popular destination for whatever Big Apple team is playing here. The presence of one of the most popular athletes to ever come out of Baltimore certainly didn't hurt.
It still worked on all levels. The Wizards trotted out some of the old stars of the Bullets era to exploit the historic NBA link between Washington and Baltimore, but the game drew a decidedly younger crowd that included lots of kids and plenty of fans wearing blue and orange Anthony jerseys.
Though this kind of event always reignites the debate over the current status of Baltimore as a two-major-sport town, there is no hidden agenda here. There is little prospect of the NBA or NHL team landing in the area in the foreseeable future, but the game still highlighted the need for a modern arena that would draw more big events to the city.
The old arena still hosts some attractive events, but a full-size, state-of-the-art facility would make Baltimore a much more popular destination for big-time rock acts, major sporting events and conventions. It would also enhance the region's prospects for a successful bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.
There is interest in developing a plan for a larger arena and a major expansion of the convention center complex, but the projected cost has been estimated at $900 million, which appears to be prohibitive under the prevailing economic conditions.