The idea of a new basketball arena to replace the Wolfpack's longtime home, Reynolds Coliseum, first emerged in the 1980s under the vision of then-Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano. In 1989, the NCSU Trustees approved plans to build a 23,000-seat arena. The Centennial Authority was created by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1995 as the governing entity of the arena, then financed by state appropriation, local contributions, and university fundraising. The Centennial Authority refocused the project into a multi-use arena, leading to the 1997 relocation agreement of the then-Hartford Whalers, who would become the Carolina Hurricanes. Construction began that year and was completed in 1999 with an estimated cost of $158 million, which was largely publicly financed by a Hotel and Restaurant tax. The Hurricanes agreed to pay $60 million of the cost, and the state of North Carolina paid $18 million. As part of the deal, the Hurricanes assumed operational control of the arena.
Known as the Raleigh Entertainment and Sports Arena (or ESA) from 1999 to 2002, it was renamed the RBC Center after an extended search for a corporate sponsor. RBC Bank, the US division of the Royal Bank of Canada, acquired 20-year naming rights for a reported $80 million. On June 19, 2011, it was announced that PNC Financial Services bought US assets of RBC Bank and acquired the naming rights to the arena pending approval by the regulatory agencies. On December 15, 2011, the Centennial Authority, the landlord of the arena, approved a name change for the facility to PNC Arena. The name change officially took place on March 15, 2012. On a normal hockey day, PNC Arena has more than 400 people on duty for security and concessions.
The arena has also seen use in fictional media, as a season four episode of The CW series One Tree Hill saw the Tree Hill High School Ravens playing a NCHSAA championship game in the venue. The arena has also seen use for game shows in a College Jeopardy episode in 2005.