SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz’s third and final scrimmage before the restart had a new wrinkle. No, it didn’t come courtesy of a new set or lineup by Jazz coach Quin Snyder — it came via technology.
On the giant video screens surrounding the court, hundreds of real faces were livestreamed in, making it look at least somewhat like a real crowd. But it sure didn’t sound like one.
With the fans being streamed onto the court from various locations, the reactions weren’t immediate. A shot would go in, a team would in-bound the ball and about the time they reached halfcourt, the cheers could be heard.
That was a little jarring. It's not really like playing in front of a sell-out crowd.
"The noise, I was not really a fan of it; just felt like I was in the big game of 2K," Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell said. "It just didn't feel real. It felt like a little like — I don't know how to explain it, but I wasn't really a big fan of just the random noises, especially since a lot of them were delayed."
So the NBA still has some things to work out when it comes to that part of the restart. That's why teams’ bench mobs might be more important than ever as the NBA returns on Thursday. If players want crowd noise in the NBA bubble, they're are going to have to generate it themselves.
"I give a huge shout out to the rooks, man; the young guys who’ve been staying engaged, especially early in the game," Mitchell said.
But the responsibility doesn't just fall on the end-of-bench guys. Not by a long shot.
Rudy Gobert sat on a chair in front of a monitor, readying to take cameras from media on a Zoom call. As a reporter began to ask a question, chants started to be heard: "Rudy, Rudy, Rudy!"
Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles soon appeared on-screen, pumping their fists as they continued to chant Gobert's name.
Yeah, they're starting to get this whole cheering thing down.
Mitchell has never been one to be reserved about his celebrations, anyway. He’ll scream and holler after a big play; he’ll wave a towel on the sideline for his teammates; and he came up with the practice of spraying teammates with water during walk-off interviews.
So acting like a fan when he's resting pretty much comes second nature to him.
"I think it just creates a fun type of atmosphere," he said. "Obviously it's quiet, things are going to get really serious, but I think it creates a little more chemistry, a little more camaraderie that we have and that we build as a team."
Mike Conley said he's felt the difference during the first three games. Playing in a packed arena in front of thousands of energetic fans, he doesn’t feel the need to stand up and cheer on every play. The crowd handles that and it provided the energy when things aren’t going great. He doesn’t have that luxury in the bubble.
"When you're normally back home or in your hometown, you don't have to necessarily stand up on every play or have to be the loudest one in the gym," Conley said. "But you literally have to be the loudest ones and show the most emotion and just be behind each other, because at this time we’re all we got and we’re the only ones that can help make or break our situation."
So when Conley is on the bench, he’s cheered — just like Mitchell has, and Royce O’Neale, and Rudy Gobert, and every player on the Jazz bench. It’s all about creating an atmosphere that at least kind of feels like an NBA game.
In a new basketball world where they can’t control much, cheering from the bench is something they have ownership of while in the bubble; and that, in a sense, is quite refreshing.
"We are the only ones that have control of it so we just have to stand behind each other, keep supporting and yelling and make the environment as best as possible," Conley said.
Mitchell thinks the vocalized support from each other could just help the Jazz win some games when things really start to matter.
"For myself, just continue to keep it light," Mitchell said. "Because there's gonna be moments we need to be really locked in and serious and we're able to yell and scream and kind of be happy on the bench and kind of keep that — keep the mood light. I think it'll help as we move into the playoffs."
At the very least, more than a streamed-in crowd will for games.