Larry (left) and Aiden Hubbard drove from their home in Memphis, Tennessee to College Park to see the Atlanta Hawks play a preseason game against the New Orleans Pelicans, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

COLLEGE PARK, Ga.- Larry Hubbard and his nine-year-old son Aiden walked down the stairs inside The Gateway Center Arena looking for Trae Young. The boy had a red Trae Young Atlanta Hawks jersey in his and an autograph on his mind. The Hawks were playing their third preseason game of the season in College Park against the New Orleans Pelicans. For many of the fans in attendance it my have been the first time they would see Young, or fellow Hawks guard Dejounte Murray or Pelicans star forward Zion Williamson play in person.

Larry and Aiden drove down from Memphis for the game. Aiden is a big fan of Young and his father wanted to make sure he saw him play. They don’t get to watch the Hawks play the Memphis Grizzlies the one time per season during the regular season, so the game in College Park, particularly with the inexpensive tickets, was a great reason for a road trip.

Tyrone (left) and Cahmari Spriggs from Lithia Springs, attended the Hawks preseason game Saturday afternoon. The elder Spriggs said the cheaper tickets and better seats were a big draw for him and his son. Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

“I love it in College Park,” said the elder Hubbard about being able to see the Hawks outside of State Farm Arena and downtown Atlanta. “I believe the team definitely needs to go places where you can get people who don’t normally come to games.”

The fact that the Hawks were playing in a 3,500 seat arena was unique. State Farm Arena, the Hawks’ home court, has a capacity of 16,888, more than five times Gateway Arena. Saturday afternoon’s announced attendance was 3,051.

“A lot of times people cam turn into super fans and season ticket holders because of stuff like this,” said Larry.

Bernard (left) and Gussie Knox enjoy some snacks before tip-off Saturday afternoon at The Gateway Center Arena in College Park, Ga. Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

All of the seats inside Gateway Arena were full just before tip-off Saturday afternoon. The crowd was made up of parents with their kids, couples on dates and friends groups enjoying food and beverages similar to a Hawks regular season game, but something was different. The energy felt different.

“It’s very exciting and it’s closer to my house,” joked Bernard Knox, who attended the game with his wife Gussie Knox. The married couple sat with food and drinks and prepared to watch the best professional basketball players in the world play in College Park.

“It’s a good move,” said Bernard of the Hawks coming to the Southside to play a preseason game. “It’s a very good move.”

Chuck Collins, who attended the game with his son, said this game was easier to get to than the games downtown.

“When they come to the community like this it’s more accessible,” Collins said.

Tyrone Spriggs and his son Cahmari, 10, were there too. The pair made a 22-mile trip to College Park from Lithia Springs to see the Hawks. They have gone to Hawks games in Atlanta but this one was better, according to Spriggs.

“It’s cheaper and these are better seats,” he laughed.

The Gateway Center Arena, home court of the Atlanta Dream and College Park Skyhawks, seats just 3,500 fans. Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

The Atlanta Hawks won the game 110-105, but what may have been a much bigger victory was the fans the franchise was able to meet just a few miles south from their downtown home court.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Donnell began his career covering sports and news in Atlanta nearly two decades ago. Since then he has written for Atlanta Business Chronicle, The Southern Cross...