The NBA appears to be back, as both players and owners haveto resume play in Orlando, Florida on July 31 -- but the games we eventually see will be much different than anything we've grown accustomed to. There will be social distancing, masks and smaller, non-NBA arenas. The most immediately noticeable difference, however, will likely be the lack of fans in the stands.
International leagues that have resumed play amid the COVID-19 pandemic have already tried various ways to simulate a crowd. The German Bundesliga, for example, has experimented with adding fake crowd noise to the broadcast of its soccer matches. The Premier League will have a similar option for fans watching at home. Others have been using cardboard cutouts or mannequins in the place of fans, while South Korean soccer team FC Seoul made headlines in mid-May by mistakenly interspersing sex dolls throughout the stadium seats to cheer on their squad.
So what will the NBA do? Well, the league is considering using crowd noise from the popular video game, NBA 2K, to simulate fans during games in Orlando, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. He added that the league and the NBPA are still discussing creative options.
Yeah, this is going to be weird.
With all the excitement over the news of the NBA's potential restart, perhaps it's time to give more consideration to what these games will actually look like. It's one thing if they pump in artificial crowd noise -- the Atlanta Falcons were harshly punished in 2016 for doing it during games, so that's nothing new -- but it's most likely going to have nothing to do with the flow of the game. Players always talk about how they feed off the energy and buzz of the crowd. In Oracle Arena over the past few seasons, I've witnessed firsthand how a crowd helped lead to those devastating Golden State Warriors third-quarter runs.
Now, even if there's fake crowd noise, there will be no buildup, no crescendo when LeBron James hits a 3-pointer from the logo to tie the game. Remember when Kawhi Leonard's game-winner bounced around the rim about 15 times before finally falling through to send the Raptors to the Eastern Conference finals? Now imagine that with no fans and a bed of crowd noise on loop.
It's not that the NBA is doing anything wrong. They should explore any and all ways to make these games seems as normal as possible. They're certainly going to need something to cover up the players and coaches talking -- likely replete with NSFW language -- during games. But no matter what they decide on, fans need to mentally prepare themselves for a uniquely bizarre experience starting in July.