Final floor: NCAA basketball champ gets dibs

Kids at the Emily K Center were dancing across the floor
Kids at the Emily K Center dance across the floor in an after-school program in Durham, N.C. The wood floor was originally installed in the Metrodome in 2001, and purchased for Duke University when the school won the NCAA men's basketball national championship in Minneapolis that year.
Courtesy of Emily K Center

Ten days from now, a college basketball team will cut down the nets and hoist the men's NCAA championship trophy into the air at U.S. Bank Stadium. The team also will have the option to claim a much bigger keepsake: the actual wooden court itself, now being installed at the Minneapolis stadium.

Tournament floors — including two from past Final Four games in Minneapolis — have had some surprising encores.

Duke plays its home games in Durham, N.C., but Minneapolis holds a special place in the history of the legendary basketball program. The Blue Devils won two of their five national championships at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, including the Final Four game in 2001.

The Metrodome is long gone, but the basketball court that actually hosted the game is still around, about a mile from the Duke campus, at the Emily K Center in Durham. The academic development center, named for the mother of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, hosts open gym time. Students play ball on the same tongue-in-groove maple Shane Battier and his teammates pounded 18 years ago when the Blue Devils won their 2001 championship game in Minneapolis.

Duke Stores, the school's independent bookstore, bought the floor after the championship. It was Duke's third title and the university already had a top-notch court on campus. So the 2001 floor, its Twin Cities logo intact, found a new home when coach Krzyzewski opened a college access program in his parents' honor a few years later.

"It was 95 percent more or less intact, [that] is what we understand. The full center court is still just as it was when they won the championship. We did repaint some of the lines because we have middle school students who actually play their basketball games and volleyball games on the court," said Sara Askey, spokesperson for the center.

Duke basketball star Zion Williamson speaks to kids at the Emily K Center.
Duke University basketball star Zion Williamson speaks to kids at the Emily K Center in Durham, N.C. The gym floor is the court the Blue Devils won the 2001 NCAA men's basketball national championship on when Duke played in the Metrodome that year.
Courtesy of Emily K Center

As part of the March Madness tradition, the NCAA orders a new set of floors every year, four each for the men's and women's regional games, one each for the men's and women's Final Four, and another for the fan fest at the men's final, like the one that opens at the Minneapolis Convention Center next Friday.

The portable floors are carefully engineered. After harvest of the wood from Wisconsin, it takes about six months to mill, manufacture, finish, ship and install them. They cost around $100,000.

"I mean, when they're brand new, there's no doubt that it's just like anything that's brand new, it performs its best on day one," said Brian Klein, marketing director for Connor Sports, the company that has built the NCAA's tournament floors for the last 14 seasons.

The University of Florida took its Final Four floor home in 2006 and played on it for nine more seasons. Other schools buy them, saw them into small pieces and sell them to fans as souvenirs and fundraisers — as Villanova University did in 2016. The team brought another one home last year and installed it "where you go and get hot dogs and popcorn and sodas," Klein said, "So when you're waiting in line to get your refreshments, you're standing on the center court of the 2018 Division 1 championships."

The floor where Duke won the 1992 Final Four at the Metrodome actually wound up at the University of Delaware in Newark. It's been replaced five times since then.

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