NBA Aims To Move Away From Virtual Fans During 2020-21 Season

The NBA worked hard to emulate the home arena atmosphere in the Orlando bubble’s empty courts during the restart last season.

The league implemented many features, including special sound effects, team-specific graphics, and, most importantly, virtual fans on 17-foot video boards surrounding the floor to add a sense of normalcy to the games.

But NBA officials are hopeful they will be able to move away from the remote fan presence during the 2020-21 season. Sara Zuckert, the NBA’s head of next-generation telecasts, told USA Today’s Mark Medina the priority for the league is to bring spectators back into the arenas:

“What we’re more focused on is having the fans back and being present and creating opportunities for flexibility,” Sara Zuckert, the NBA’s head of next-generation telecasts, told USA TODAY Sports. “So it’ll vary city to city. But those LED boards are certainly not conducive in many ways to have fans present. So you will see some variation from team-to-team based on different capabilities in different markets.”

Only a few teams are planning to host a portion of fans inside their arenas in the early stages of the 2020-21 season. That is dependent on each market’s coronavirus (COVID-19) infection rate, local health guidelines, and the distribution of a vaccine.

Therefore, Zuckert said, the NBA shared the technology used in the Orlando bubble — including pre-recorded crowd noise and graphics — with the teams to utilize while they await the return of fans:

“We’re now allowing the teams themselves to control it and run with it,” Zuckert said, “to best replicate what their home arenas sound like.”

The Lakers opted against letting fans inside Staples Center at the start of the new campaign. James recently spoke about missing the special atmosphere accompanying home games, particularly for a marquee date such as Christmas Day.

James approaches airballed free throw in Christmas Day victory with humor

James shined in the victory over Dallas, ending the night with 22 points, 10 assists, and seven rebounds. But in the third quarter, the 16-time All-Star suffered some embarrassment as he airballed one of his free throw attempts.

However, James shrugged off the awkward effort following the game. “I said the other night when I drink the wine goes straight down to the left side of my body,” James noted. “Tonight, I shot the free throw with my right hand, so it did not have bad side effects.

“I’m still going to drink some wine. If I can shoot it down the right side of my body, maybe it will help my free throws and give me a little bit more strength to where it doesn’t hit absolutely nothing. Maybe I need to drink upside down, vampire style. We’ll see.”

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