When it comes to outdoor basketball courts, the two key criteria are atmosphere and court quality. Nestled snugly across the street from Toyota Center amid several downtown high-rises and in absolute mint condition, Root Memorial Square's basketball court grades off the charts in both of those categories. It's the ideal place to participate in or watch a pickup game or just shoot around with friends, as its close proximity to the Rockets' home gives this area a cool "basketball campus" feel. With lighting for evening games, depending on the time of day, you never know whom you'll see showing off his basketball wares in the heart of downtown Houston. Root Memorial Square is most definitely where the big boys play.

It's not easy to fill the shoes of one legend, let alone two, but that's exactly the task that Craig Ackerman was assigned back in 2008 when longtime Rockets announcer duo Gene Peterson and Jim Foley both stepped aside and retired and the Rockets chose to go to a one-man radio booth. Ackerman would be that man. Ackerman is a native Ohioan, but having graduated from Sam Houston in the late '90s, he's been a Texan for two decades now and a fixture around the Rockets' organization virtually that entire time, including handling play-by-play duties for the WNBA Houston Comets from 2006 to 2008 as well as the studio host assignment for the Rockets for five seasons before stepping into the big seat to start the 2008-2009 season. Ackerman's energetic style matches the fast pace of the team whose play he describes, since he hopes to voice the championship memories for the next generation of Rockets fans, as Peterson did for so many Houstonians back in 1994 and 1995.

You won't find any trees, ponds or hiking trails at Houston's newest park — that's because it's made for skateboarders. Instead of green grass or playground equipment, the newly opened Spring Skatepark offers 72,000 square feet of concrete, which is more footage than any other skatepark in the country. Challenges for skaters include a ten-foot bowl, a 12-foot vertical ramp, banked walls, speed hips and a couple of backyard-style pools. There's also a section of stairs, banks, benches, rails and ledges, replicating the obstacles that riders find on public streets. Organizers are still putting together a website and getting an office phone installed at the facility. As of press time, there also was the pesky question of whether to allow access to BMX bike riders. But these are minor details that will soon be worked out. With some 1.6 acres of smooth concrete, this place is a skateboarder's wet dream.

Runners and bikers don't always get along well in the wild, but Buffalo Bayou Park offers a setting where they can respectively jog and pedal in harmony. The park, which touches both sides of the bayou, now boasts ten-foot-wide concrete trails with passing space for joggers and cyclists. A five-year restoration project that began in 2010 has added native plants and trees, augmenting the natural beauty of the place. While the restoration is still under way, some sections are already done, offering a tranquil running or biking option right near downtown.

Houston sports fans have grown so used to frustration, we'll take any bit of good news that comes along, even if it's from a relatively unusual source. College baseball may be second-string in a city with four professional franchises, but in his fourth season at the helm this year, UH men's baseball coach Todd Whitting fielded a winner. The fightin' Coogs barreled to a record of 48-18 — tying the school record for most wins in a season — to reach a national ranking as high as No. 12, and won the inaugural All-American Athletic Conference tournament championship. Then the Coogs upset No. 9 LSU in the NCAA's Baton Rouge regional before being denied a trip to the College World Series by perennial powerhouse Texas in the Austin super-regional. A UH alumnus himself (class of '95), Whitting also had five of his players selected in this year's MLB draft, and looks set to have his squad bringing home plenty more pennants in seasons to come.

Photo by Katya Horner

It's so well planned and so enjoyable for human and canine visitors that we forgive the Discovery Green Kinder Large Dog Run and Harriet and Joe Foster Small Dog Run its extremely cumbersome name(s). Discovery Green has separate fenced areas for large and small dogs, with both crushed gravel and grass as ground cover. Drinking fountains, benches and nearby shade trees make the runs comfortable even on Houston's hot summer days. One of the main reasons fans are drawn to the Discovery Green runs is the multi-use park that surrounds them. Live music and dance performances, film screenings, festivals, food vendors and lots more are scheduled year-round. There's something for everyone, with two legs or four.

The Astros are admittedly terrible, but there's a plus side in the form of those amazingly cheap seats. Right now a trip to Minute Maid Park to take in America's national pastime will set you back as little as $10. The view is decent even from the nosebleed sections, and thanks to all those losses, the odds are good you'll be able to mosey your way through the empties into an even better seat. Some nights there are even fireworks. Combine that with a beer, a hot dog (or eat before the game to really keep things affordable) and a rousing rendition of the national anthem, and there's a good time to be had by all.

Yes, there are places that have faster go-karts. Yes, there are places where you can ride indoors. The reality is that while many places in Houston offer many different kinds of go-karting experiences, none delivers a better ratio of fun-to-money than Speedy's. The track lives up to its name, especially if you're the type who pretends brake pedals only exist after a race is over. You may not hit warp speed, but if you love the feel of the wind in your face while tackling tight turns and screaming at your buddies, there's really no better place to race in Houston than Speedy's.

Hermann Park turns 100 next year, and it's in great shape for its centennial. Landscape architect George Kessler designed the park in 1915 and included plenty of attractions but left lots of open space for future development. But wars, a waning economy and fickle public support delayed many of the proposed improvements over the years. For a while there it seemed that Hermann Park was little more than some green space between neighboring mega-museums. Then, in 2006, the Hermann Park Conservancy started pushing for a renewal. Old facilities were refurbished and new public art programs were put in place. Lighting, parking and transportation services were all kicked up a notch. Now the park attracts as many visitors as its well-heeled neighbors. Shows at Miller Outdoor Theatre are scheduled almost year-round and include performances by the city's world-class companies, as well as headlining visitors.

Dwight Howard brought the initial headlines, but James Harden got the final recognition. After finishing fifth in the NBA in scoring last season at 25.4 points per game while also dishing out more than six assists per game, The Beard became just the third Rocket to be named First Team All-NBA and the first since Hakeem Olajuwon earned the honor in 1997. The Rockets' early playoff exit might have proven the team is still a third star away from championship contention, but having one of the five best players in the league on your team is never a bad thing.

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