By Michelle Werts

This weekend, college hoops fans will be treated to the final dance. The end of a more than three weeks of madness will culminate in New Orleans on a shining, squeaking maple court, and that maple court had just as long a journey to the Final Four as each of the basketball teams playing on it.

2006 NCAA Final Four basketball game
Pre-game routines before a 2006 NCAA Final Four basketball game. Credit: Stepshep/Wikimedia Commons

The floor began as all wood does: as seedlings. These particular seedlings found life in Wisconsin’s Menominee Forest. For more than 150 years, the Menominee people have been managing this forest sustainably. What does this mean? It means that the Menominee keep an inventory of every tree in their forest and work to ensure that the forest maintains its diversity, quality and quantity year after year as trees are removed for harvesting. In fact, the Menominee are so good at maintaining their forest that there are more trees in the forest today than there were 150 years ago. American Forests magazine will actually be featuring the Menominee in our Spring issue that will be coming out next month, so be on the lookout for that, but let’s get back to the story of one very special floor.

Since basketball floors are known for their pale, flawless appearance, the wood has to be harvested in the fall and winter when the trees are sapless, making the wood whiter. The Menominee harvested the highest grade of maple last fall for the Final Four floor, cut it into planks and shipped the planks to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Connor Sports Flooring.

Connor — a Forest Stewardship Council member, along with the Menominee, which means it adheres to the council’s strict environmental standards for the logging industry — then inspected the wood for nicks or defects (any wood deemed unfit for the sporting floor will be used for parquet residential floor or other purposes at Connor’s plant), dried it, treated it with steam and heat, and fitted the planks with grooves for “easy” assembly. Then, the 240 pieces were sent to the next stop in their journey: The Ohio Floor Co.’s Ohio facility where the floor is laid out, sanded, sealed and painted. This process took about five weeks to complete and made a nifty time-lapse video.

Finally, the floor made its way to New Orleans last weekend and was treated in high, New Orleans style with a welcoming parade, complete with beads and a marching band. Now, it awaits the glory of the Final Four and championship games. And, while it may be painted with the phrase “The Journey Ends Here,” that’s not true for this floor. Where will it go when the teams leave the Big Easy behind? Most likely with the national champion, as it will be offered, for a price, to the winning team. The teams often use the floor as souvenirs of their victory, but the Florida Gators’ winning floor actually became the team’s home floor after their 2006 championship according to USA Today (check out its photo gallery of the floor-making process).

So, this weekend, if you’re watching some Final Four action, make sure to check out the floor. Lots of hard work went into it, too.