Back in 2016-17, the Long Island Nets played their home games in a mostly empty Barclays Center. Nassau Coliseum’s extensive renovations weren’t finished on time but the Nets wanted to field a G League team after two years without one.
They tried to sell tickets, but failed. So, rather than open the arena and pay ushers and concessionaires, ownership decided to limit attendance at the Brooklyn arena to a chosen few.
As Malika Andrews reported Friday, “nearly every one of the Brooklyn facility’s 17,732 seats were vacant whenever Long Island took the court that season.”
Here’s what it looked like: a clip of Taurean Prince highlights from a game in January 2017. Prince was on loan from the Hawks...
Notice only the first couple of rows were filled and most of those sitting there either had ties to the organization, like Sean Marks and his scouts, or were relatives and friends of the players.
Long Island estimated that only about 100 people — including players, coaches and broadcasters — were in the building for most of the team’s 25 home games.
And that, ESPN’s hoops writer says, is what you can expect if the NBA goes without fans either at the end of this suspended season or the beginning of next. Few believe that many fans will be ready to join thousands of others in a confined space for a while. Infectious disease experts have said the world should prepare for another wave of coronavirus in the fall. We may be more prepared, there maybe therapeutics to help those who are ill but a vaccine isn’t likely for a year or longer.
Just last Monday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver told TNT’s Ernie Johnson that, “Player safety and the health of everyone in the NBA family has to come first. That may mean there is a scenario in which we can play without fans.”
Andrews talked with a number of players from that Long Island team and their coach, Ronald Nored, about what it was like to play in front of a smattering of fans ... and what that portends for a fan-less NBA experience.
Chris McCullough, the Nets first round pick in 2015, recalls the odd sensation of scoring 37 points in a comeback win against the Greensboro Swarm to near silence. It was his best game as a pro and no one saw it.
“I went to Syracuse, so I was used to playing with big [numbers of] fans,” McCullough said, referring to the Carrier Dome, with a capacity of 35,000 people.
“It was as awkward as you can imagine,” former Long Island forward Lazar Hayward told Andrews. “Maybe even a little more.”
The team did eventually settle into a routine. Hayward told Andrews it took him five games to get used to the emptiness.
And it was a different game in a lot of ways. One difference cited by Andrews was the frequency of technical fouls. Nored explained why: Refs could better hear offensive language!
Now an assistant coach in Charlotte, he told Andrews that he realized early on that he needed to keep his temper in check. Not only could referees hear everything, so could his boss, Sean Marks, who was often seated a few rows behind the bench.
There were other interesting twists to playing in an empty arena. Teams could hear what was said in the opponents huddles. Players could hear radio and TV commentators as they took free throws ... complete with their shooting percentages.
The arena did pump Top 40 music out of the arena’s overhead speakers, but there was no Brooklyn Brigade, no rowdy opponents fans either.
Nored told Andrews that eventually his team adjusted.
“What I learned through the experience is you find ways to create the energy when you don’t have it from the fans,” Nored said. “[Our team] did it with each other, because that’s the only option that you have.”
DeAndre Jordan has been quoted on how weird the experience might be. Maybe he should ask Taurean Prince. He knows.
- One G League team’s season three years ago offers a glimpse into the fanless NBA experience - Malika Andrews - ESPN