ORLANDO – For those with a strong emotional investment in the world of basketball, what just happened in an improvised NBA arena was a sight for hungry eyes and also a strange one for all other human senses.
You couldn’t hear the approval boom when Paul George slipped into the lane and made an energetic dunk because all the applause was confined to the Clippers’ bench.
You could not smell the aroma of comforting food and refined cuisine because there was nothing on the mezzanine or a mezzanine.
And you didn’t see a sea of fans crammed together in the stands or sitting cross-legged on the sidelines while sipping wine because, well, you should know by now.
This dry basketball series disguised as a melee between Clippers and Magic on Wednesday was officially the first NBA game organized since March 11, but the world changed that day and so did the presentation of basketball.
Based on what everyone saw when the NBA reopened business a bit – a professional basketball game held without fans – will it take a while to get used to, suppose?
“It was really quiet, so you have to bring your energy,” said the magical Aaron Gordon. “You can hear everything being said on the floor.”
The Arena at the Wide World Of Sports Complex was deceived for the Clippers-Magic preview and the same goes for the other two places that will host the renewed season when the matches resume next Thursday. Since there are no fans, everything is designed and made for TV, which creates an artificial atmosphere. What other choice is there?
You may have the urge to connect a Playstation to feel the full effect. The video dominates the lower level of the arena, where the high definition panels are stretched to surround three quarters of the floor. It was a tech bubble, with boldly lit graphics that made an NBA2K game appear just off the pitch. Speaking of the pitch, Black Lives Matter is tattooed in bold and strong enough to be seen and heard, in case there is someone old there who is not aware of what the league and its players are promoting and protesting. Aside from that and the league logo, the field is bare and the lane is not painted.
Here are the images and sounds of stopping the first game, won by the Clippers, 99-90, who will follow the NBA as it untangles and ends this interrupted season with 22 teams in one point:
No cheerleaders, mascots, half-time nonsense, fan shooting competitions, usher or security with the yellow jacket around to yank anyone sitting in the wrong place.
The seats on the team benches are socially spaced and layered on three rows and hidden in a corner, away from the assistant coaches (also spaced apart). Each seat on the bench has its own bottle holder; players must use their own for the entire game. During the timeouts, five folding chairs are pushed onto the floor for the players, six if the coach wants to sit down while scribbling on his rubber. Everyone else must stand.
The scoreboard table will be surrounded by plexiglass for protection and as an added bonus, also a shield against a rebel player who throws himself for a free ball.
The ballboys and ballgirls, all of local origin, must wear rubber gloves and sit on the chairs off the pitch and behind the basket while they are socially distant from each other.
Nobody is on the ground except the referees, players and coaches. Assistant coaches must remain seated. There are no photographers under the basket and the three cameras on the sidelines are controlled remotely.
The referees are microphones so that the people behind the plexiglass can hear them when there is an infringement.
The home team, in this case the Clippers, got the home graphics on the video cards and when one of his scored a basket, he heard a small additional volume from the PA announcer. Interesting scene: the PA actually said, “Please welcome your customers” and … no applause. There is a joke that Laker fans tell each other, but their time is also coming.
Interesting scene, no. 2: Joakim Noah waved a hand in the air after being announced as a Clippers appetizer … as if someone should notice it.
Interesting scene, no. 3: The AP said, “Please, welcome to the visiting team, the Magic of Orlando.”
The upper deck is darkened with tarpaulins, the team announcing the troupe must sit in multiple rows from the field and are spaced out, and the additional media are limited to a handful of places hidden in the corner.
Yes, as the adopted NBA slogan says, it’s really a completely new game. At least until the ball goes up and instinct takes over.