Some sports are man­ag­ing lack of fans caused by coro­n­avirus bet­ter than others

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - RICK TELANDER rte­lander@sun­ | @rick­te­lander

One thing’s for sure: You’ve never seen a sports sea­son like this one. It’s late Au­gust, and last week­end you could watch four NBA play­off games in a sin­gle day?

Watch the NHL in full Stan­ley Cup­play­off mode?

Watch the In­di­anapo­lis 500, which usu­ally takes place in May?

Of course, the op­er­a­tive word here is watch. More pre­cisely, watch on TV, be­cause the idea of lots of spec­ta­tors — or even any­body — at­tend­ing th­ese events is some­thing of an anachro­nism.

Peo­ple are learn­ing, swiftly and sadly, to stay away from each other, es­pe­cially from crowds. (That is, if you’re not at a beach party in Wis­con­sin or with pro­test­ers boy­cotting Costco over its mask-wear­ing pol­icy.)

A pan­demic changes the world in many ways, and some of those ways will not be fully ap­par­ent un­til the coro­n­avirus has been wres­tled into sub­mis­sion.

Might we per­haps get used to not at­tend­ing games en masse? To not get­ting close to hu­man strangers, even if they’re wear­ing our team’s col­ors? To wear­ing masks, even when it’s not Hal­loween? It might hap­pen.

This is a mo­ment for lots of things to change. A big one: TV re­work­ing cam­era tech­nol­ogy, an­gles and all the things that might more stim­u­late fans who aren’t leav­ing their Barca-Loungers again.

I have a bunch of take­aways from re­cent view­ings. Let’s go by sport:


The fake NBA ‘‘crowds’’ in the stands in the Dis­ney bub­ble al­most have started to seem nor­mal. Play­ers jump around while on the side­line, the noise is pumped in and, if you weren’t real per­cep­tive, you might think this was a reg­u­lar league venue.

Be­cause a bas­ket­ball court is so small, the fan void doesn’t grate much. In fact, it’s won­der­ful there are no swells hold­ing beers and read­ing cell­phones so close to the side­lines or jammed cam­era­men on the base­line, ter­ri­ble ob­sta­cles for play­ers.

Ath­letes are way more ath­letic when they know they can soar past the bas­ket or dive past the side­lines with­out risk­ing a bro­ken an­kle, gashed face or ‘‘hi­lar­i­ous’’ crash into some Hol­ly­wood star or be­jew­eled rap­per dressed in a sweat­suit.

Three-point-shoot­ing success from the base­line cor­ners is way up be­cause there’s no dis­trac­tion be­hind the shoot­ers. And free throws have been out-of-con­trol good since the glass is just that: clear glass. No Play­boy cen­ter­folds or huge, wav­ing card­board heads to dis­tract.

Con­sider that the Jazz’s back­court of Dono­van Mitchell and Mike Con­ley were 23-for-24 from the line Sun­day. Mitchell has missed two of his 44 free throws in the playoffs.

Big­gest thing? No home-court ad­van­tage and no ex­haust­ing, back-to-back road games, those atroc­i­ties wherein the visit­ing team shows up sim­ply to check the cal­en­dar and lose.


Not good. Ball­parks are so vast and balls fly out of so many places — mak­ing empti­ness shots obli­ga­tory — that the games look like they’re be­ing played in endof-times zom­bie shop­ping malls. Three and a half hours of that?


Lord, the si­lence and empti­ness make each punch and grunt sound like death. Hideous. Like fight­ing in a chain-linked zom­bie park­ing lot, maybe with baseball next door.


Not bad, though the tarped-off stands make it ap­pear at times as though games are be­ing held af­ter the pop­corn has been swept up and the help has gone home.

But the horns blast af­ter goals, and guys still fight. Yay.


Hasn’t hap­pened yet, but . . .

No Big Ten. No Pac-12.

But the folks in the SEC, ACC and Big 12 are tak­ing their virus chances. Good luck!

Oh, yeah, par­ents of some Big Ten play­ers protested Fri­day in front of the con­fer­ence of­fices in Rose­mont. They just want their boys to play. Un­der­stand­able, but pan­demics suck, folks.

The NFL is plan­ning to play, and we’ll see how that looks and sounds with ba­si­cally empty stands in those huge sta­di­ums. Imag­ine Sol­dier Field with­out drunks scream­ing for a new quar­ter­back. Wow, crazy.


No prob­lem here. Two guys walk­ing along trimmed pas­tures with­out hav­ing to smile and tip­ping their caps gen­tly ev­ery so of­ten.

You’re sup­posed to shush when golfers hit or putt — if you run, look at your banned cell­phone or holler at the wrong time at the Masters, you’ll be tossed out for­ever — so no peo­ple is no big deal.


Ex­cept for the sneaky body-sign cheat­ing of coaches in the stands, it’s the same deal as golf.

One last thing: Re­mem­ber when there was go­ing to be a 2020 Tokyo Olympics?


The NBA has done a good job of mak­ing things seem as close to nor­mal as pos­si­ble in its Dis­ney bub­ble. Play­ers jump around on the side­line, and noise is pumped in.


Seas of empty seats have been prob­lem­atic for the at­mos­phere for games in the Stan­ley Cup playoffs and Ma­jor League Baseball.

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