DETROIT — Rudy Gobert remembers playing a game with no fans before. OK, OK, OK, maybe there were some fans — three to be exact.
“I’ve done that before — when I was 12,” Gobert said. “I don’t mind doing it again.”
Bojan Bogdanovic played in empty arenas in Turkey. But that was because some of those supporters had a tendency to throw rocks.
"Fans were crazy," he remembered fondly.
Miye Oni remembers playing in an empty gym — during his AAU days.
But a real-life NBA game without fans? That’s something that might be in their futures.
With the novel coronavirus breakout spreading in America, the NBA is still figuring out how to best proceed. Reports around the NBA have stated that the league has discussed such things as limiting the locker room to team personnel only, a plan to limit team and arena staff, and, yes, playing games with only “essential staff present.”
That means no fans.
But everyone is hoping it doesn’t come to that.
“First of all, the whole situation is unfortunate,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "And we are in a position where we are sensitive to that. At this point, you know, we’re gonna do what we can do, and continue to play — play to the extent that we’re going to listen to experts in the field.”
It’s a strange time. Some players have studied up on the virus and have changed their actions like not signing autographs and washing their hands routinely. Others don’t know much. The league, according to an ESPN report, is asking for teams to send in precautionary plans by Tuesday. Those plans will include arrangements with infectious disease specialists, facilities that could conduct testing and a plan to limit team and arena staff.
“I think it would be weird,” Jazz center Ed Davis said of playing without fans. “I guess everybody knows the motivation to play is the fans. That’s the reason we make the salaries that we make, that’s the reason they even build these arenas. Having games without the fans would be weird. It’d be worse than practice. I dunno.”
This is an unprecedented situation for the league, but a situation that has happened elsewhere in the world due to the outbreak — most notably in Italy. But on Thursday, LeBron James simply stated he won’t take the court if the fans aren’t there.
“You mean play games without the fans? No. It’s impossible. I ain’t playing. Not without the fans in the crowd,” James told reporters. “That’s who I play for. I play for my teammates, and I play for the fans. That’s what it’s all about. So if I show up to an arena, and there ain’t no fans there, I ain’t playing. So they can do what they want to do.”
But Davis, ever the realist, didn’t think everyone would be so strong in that conviction.
“He can say that now, until the NBA says, ‘All right, give us (your) check,’” Davis said. “I doubt I’d be all the way there.”
It’s a waiting game as the teams and league gather information and create a plan to move ahead. But with the virus spreading, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before the NBA is impacted. What will that look like? That’s the question everyone is wondering.
“At this point, they are in the position to weigh all that, interpret it, and we trust them in the direction that they take us in and the decisions that they make,” Snyder said.