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I spend a lot of time thinking about basketball. Whether it’s the fate of the Bulls, the soap opera of Derrick Rose’s return or the status of my fantasy basketball team, roundball is to me as Georgia is to Ray Charles: always on my mind. So you can probably imagine how excited I get to go to an actual NBA game. I love that excitement of professional sports. I love knowing that my pituitary-blessed heroes are playing the game that I love right in front of me. I love being able to yell at the players and know that there’s at least some small chance that they’ll hear what I’m saying (as opposed to the times when I yell at my TV like a crazy person). What I don’t love is eating at a stadium.

Stadium food (ballpark food, arena food, etc.) is bad. There’s no getting around that. It’s food made in industrial kitchens for consumption in an uncomfortable plastic seat. You may be thinking “Hey! I’ve had good stadium food!” but you’re wrong. What you’ve had is “not-bad stadium food.” There’s a major difference. Everything you buy at your local (Major Company) Center is overpriced, mass-produced garbage. I love nachos as much as the next guy, but come on, wouldn’t you be better off eating them at your local taqueria instead of dipping those round, unnaturally yellow discs in cheese jizz? The answer is yes. So what’s a guy to do? Well, friend, you’ve got some tough choices to make.

Most games start between 7 and 8 p.m., which is dinner time for most folks. If you’re not eating at the stadium, you’ve got two options: eat before the game or try to hold out until later. The late dinner option is a bad one. You’re not out of that game until 10pm at the earliest and that’s pretty late for dinner unless you dress entirely in black and make Kristen Stewart your bride. Chances are, you’ll give in at some point during the third quarter and pay $14 for a hot dog. You know what that tastes like? Regret. Don’t try to wait until after the game.

That leaves eating beforehand as your best option. It’s a great idea if you’ve got the time. Unfortunately, most people have these things called “jobs.” Jobs don’t usually leave you enough time to go home, drop off your work stuff (Briefcases? Do people still carry those?), and fight your way to the stadium. Traffic, parking, buses running late – these are the factors conspiring against your brilliant early dinner plan. If this is you, then prepare yourself to be at the mercy of the concession stands or try to eat lunch late enough that after-game dinner won’t feel like it’s in the middle of the night. A little planning goes a long way.

For those that have time to eat before the game, you’re in luck. Just as Pre-Theatre Dining has become its own genre, so has Pre-Game Dining (not the same as pre-gaming in college, which exclusively involves Jager bombs). Some restaurants near stadiums are more than happy to offer you a quick meal that allows you to get to the game with plenty of time for tip-off. It’s a win-win. You get dinner and they get to fill tables early that otherwise would have sat empty. Heck, some of these places even have shuttles to the game so you can save on parking.

While Pre-Game Dining is a great choice, it’s not the best choice. After years of careful reflection on the subject, I’ve determined that Happy Hour is the ultimate pre-game eating option. It’s the perfect storm of dining: you can load up on all the stuff you would have bought at the game (beer, burgers, stale popcorn) but it’s all cheaper and someone will bring it to you. It’s like you have your own luxury box and you didn’t even have to beg your sister’s husband’s boss to give you his tickets. 

If none of these options sound great, then you have one final option: smuggling. Every stadium has their own rules about this, but if you don’t mind being a pirate, grab a burrito from Chipotle, shove it in a jacket pocket and get ready to spill beans all over the place. It may not be legal, but it solves a bunch of problems.

What’s your game day eating plan? Let us know in the comments.

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