With the 2021 NBA season starting up, attendance remains limited and virtual
The NBA and NBA player’s union began the 2021 season on Dec. 22, out of the bubble for the first time since COVID-19 struck.
Over the summer, players continued their season in the Orlando Bubble at Walt Disney World. The isolated zone kept teams safe from spreading COVID-19 during the final eight games of the 2019-2020 season. Now, the regular-season action continues but is reduced to 72 games. Players who test positive for the virus have to sit out for 10 days and go through a series of steps until they play again. Fans can expect players with symptomatic and serious cases’ time-out to be longer.
“It’s working well so far,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said on CNN during a panel discussion. “I would say my favorite emoji has become the ‘fingers crossed’ one.”
Individual player workouts ran from Dec. 1 to 5, with group workouts from Dec. 6 to 10 and the preseason from Dec. 11 to 19. Each team played a minimum of two games and a maximum of four games as part of the NBA’s 49-game preseason schedule.
“I’m so ready for basketball again,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said in an interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio. “I’m so ready for us to get some normalcy… [during the preseason] the guys were very attuned to all the issues and safety risks and really stuck to the script.”
This season will be different from previous seasons, first and foremost the decrease of the typical 82 games down to 72. Second, teams play two consecutive games in the same city with the same team in order to reduce travel rather than having the games spread out. Although the season is different, many fans are glad the teams aren’t just reduced to playing in the bubble.
“If you watched the games in August in the bubble with the virtual fans, they weren’t as entertaining,” senior Christopher Hess said. “It wasn’t because the basketball wasn’t as good, but because the arena was so quiet you could hear the squeaks of sneakers rather than the roar of the crowd when somebody shoots an amazing shot. [Spectators] definitely help with momentum swings and the energy. The fans not only make the games more fun but also bring the player’s intensity levels up. It makes the whole energy in the building better.”
Instead of holding an All-Star game, there will be a break from action March 5 to 10 that separates the two halves of the season. This gap gives players a six-day break from the hectic schedule.
“I watch [the games] every year,” sophomore Madison McCloud said. “I want to see all the new and incoming players and all the all stars. They can all show off their talents and do creative contests.”
The trade deadline will occur after March 3 instead of its typical date around February. The decision of fans being at games will be made on a team-to-team basis with approval from local and state health officials. The Dallas Mavericks are allowing limited guests, using seating charts and event capacities to ensure physical distance. Hess is debating whether or not he will attend games in-person.
“If I do go to one it will be later in the season obviously because COVID is really bad right now and there’s kind of a big COVID outbreak between the players right now,” Hess said. “I need to look into the stands and see how spaced apart the fans are because I would prefer to be more spaced apart than in the past. If I do go to one it will probably be March, April, or May depending on what happens.”
As of Monday, Jan. 11, the Mavericks total number of positive COVID-19 tests rose to four, according to the Dallas Morning News. As a result, the league and NBPA set new health protocols in place for the next two weeks, such as stricter mask wearing and distancing with less socializing.
“If we can just keep everybody healthy, or as healthy as we can, get us into March and April, things are going to get really fun,” Cuban said in the SiriusXM interview. “I think those last couple months of the NBA season are going to be incredible, where people are going nuts at games, fans are going to sports bars to watch games. Every game becomes an event. It’s just going to be really, really exciting.”
Cuban is optimistic about the new Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The league is planning a vaccine education program before the players have to decide whether they want to take it.
“I am a big believer in the vaccines,” Cuban said in the same interview. “I’m a geeky guy who does a lot of the research on this stuff, it’s my personal belief that by March, April at the latest, we’re going to have a huge snap back where most of the people in the country will have had access to it if they wanted, people will have taken it, and people are going to be going nuts just to go outside, to go to games, to yell and scream and not worry about it and have fun.”
Many believe that spectators add spirit and purpose to the games, but with the pandemic, the spirit will be lacking. Due to limited attendance, many people, such as McCloud, will only be watching on their TV.
“As a fan, [being in person] makes you get more into the game,” McCloud said. “As a player, you feed off the crowd’s energy and they make you want to work harder for your fans.”