Lake States maintain hub for hardwood court production

From NBA to Olympics, locally crafted basketball courts are appreciated globally

(Connor Sports photo, Fiserv Forum)

MADISON, Wis. -- There was much to celebrate as the Wisconsin Bucks clinched the NBA Championship title earlier this year for the first time since 1971. The players themselves deserve praise, of course, but there was another impressive participant that many overlooked: the court itself.

From college to professional level, basketball in Wisconsin has brought much excitement to sports fans across the state, and a common thread throughout has been a quality, hardwood floor.

Not much changed in court design during the 50 years between Milwaukee’s NBA championship wins, nor for that matter, since James Naismith invented the game back in 1891.

Basketball courts are typically crafted from hard maple, which includes both the sugar maple and black maple species. Of the thirty NBA teams, only the Boston Celtics forgo the maple and instead use red oak wood in their signature parquet floor at The Boston Garden.

For the rest of the courts, hard maple is often sourced from the hardwood forests in the upper Midwest. The tight grain of hard maple wood gives it the hardness and durability needed to withstand the regular stress caused by players running up and down the court. Safety is another important consideration when constructing a court. Various natural and synthetic subfloors are used to supply cushioning beneath the floor. This helps absorb some of the energy and reduce injury for players while also preventing the wood from cracking and denting.

The court in Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum arena was crafted from sustainable hard maple wood supplied by Menominee Tribal Enterprises (MTE). Of the trees in the over 230,000-acre Menominee Forest, 23% are sugar maple, which has helped supply a foundation for MTE’s over 35 years of basketball flooring experience.

Once harvested, the wood is sent up the road to MTE’s sawmill in Neopit, Wis. About 225 hard maple panels are cut and milled for each basketball court. To complete the court for the Bucks, MTE supplied their lumber to a fellow Midwest company, Connor Sports in Amasa, Mich. Connor Sports manufactures the hardwood flooring and installs the courts.

At this stage, the light color of hard maple wood makes it an attractive choice for basketball courts. The flooring can be produced in three different grades, which correspond to the amount of color variation in it. When the court finisher takes over in the process, they pair the natural color with creative stain designs and colorful paint to create a final product that meets each team’s customized design.

From local schools to NCAA March Madness and NBA arenas, MTE and Connor Sports have partnered on numerous projects both near and far. The Bucks’ court may be a local favorite, but what is proudly produced in the small communities of Wisconsin and Michigan can even end up on a world stage. When the U.S. men’s and women’s basketball teams won gold medals this past summer at the Tokyo Olympic Games, they were standing on a court that had traveled 6,000 miles across the world from the hardwood forests right here in the upper Midwest.

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