Home games aren’t really at home in the Orlando Bubble, which is all the more reason for the NBA to take steps for the San Antonio Spurs and other teams.
How do you make a new place feel like home? With displacement across the country in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, thousands of people have to adapt to their environments and bring some level of comfort to an uncomfortable situation. This is amplified for the San Antonio Spurs players, coaches and staff members who are among the 22 teams inside the NBA’s Orlando Bubble at Walt Disney World Resorts.
On one hand, there are worse places to be stuck for three months. Players are in deluxe hotel rooms and have access to dozens of immunities including restaurants, bars, player’s lounges, media rooms, pools and arcades. That’s all great, but most of these players are away from the people and places that they love and that’s always going to hurt a little bit — Especially for those who are inside for as long as three months to compete for a title.
LONNIE WALKER IV!
The Rockets had a 16-point lead with 7:20 left in the 4th quarter (after Harden's "missed" dunk). Walker then scored 19 of his career-high 28 PTS in the quarter, including the Spurs final 8. pic.twitter.com/smv0PIYaT3
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) December 4, 2019
For the Spurs, this is probably going to be a shorter trip than they’d hoped. The one theme that keeps popping up for this team since entering the bubble is the idea of “development” being the priority. To me, that sounds like the Spurs will use this to give the younger players reps as a means of making the team better next season. It could also be a decent showcase of players they’ll dangle in the trade market during the offseason in just a few months.
By taking a few steps to make the team more comfortable and enhancing the home-court advantage on what’s essentially a neutral site, the NBA can help the Spurs build a better product moving into the future. If the players are happy, the league is happy and no matter what, the fans are going to be happy to have their favorite sport back.
Next: No. 1 - Insert those beloved chants
1. Insert ‘Go Spurs Go’ chants from previous San Antonio Spurs crowds.
There’s no chant or cheer more prominent for the San Antonio Spurs than the ‘Go Spurs Go’ chant. It’s the team’s mantra and is so closely associated with the team’s brand that it’ll bring a sense of familiarity over the organization. Having that in the background, even if it’s clipped from a game earlier in the season, it might help these guys feel like they can gain some momentum.
Maybe it won’t have the same impact that a real-life ‘Go Spurs Go’ chant would, but at the same time, it’s better than nothing. For the most part, we’ve heard similar sound effects to what the team would have in their arena normally. There are musical interludes, sound effects for made baskets and trolls when an opponent misses a free throw. If they’ve taken those steps, to include music and things of the sort, then why not the Spurs’ drumline and a pre-recorded chant?
This wouldn’t work live over Zoom or anything of the sort as the overlapping calls are likely to screw with audio quality. However, taking it from a broadcast earlier in the year would certainly suffice. Unprecedented times call for desperate measures and quite frankly, it might feel a little bit odd to insert a chorus of fans who aren’t around. Even with that being the case, the NBA is obviously interested in being experimental and trying to build on this experience.
The first and most important aspect of this experiment is the players’ safety. They’re being tested every day and so far, no one inside the Orlando Bubble has tested positive for COVID-19. That will remain the focus, but after that, the league’s top priority is putting the best possible product on the court and in people’s homes via broadcasts, so they might as well just try it for a game.
If it’s too weird to hear a ‘Go Spurs Go’ chant that’s not actually there, they can just pull it!
Next: No. 2 - Get the families involved
2. Put San Antonio Spurs player’s families amongst those in the virtual crowd.
It was recently announced that the NBA would be putting fans into stands virtually, having them projected onto a giant video board in the stands via Zoom or another live conferencing service. With that being the case, why not put some of the San Antonio Spurs’ families in the crowd during these games?
They don’t need to make a scene about it or even tell the public, but having the face of someone these players love up in the stands might give them a little bit of extra incentive to play hard. For the players whose families and significant others live with them in the River City during the season, there are influential people in their lives consistently attending games under normal conditions.
Whether it be parents, girlfriends, children, siblings, or friends, these are the people who the Spurs players, coaches and staff members care about most. Projecting them into the “crowd” to watch these games from first-person could add to the human element of sports.
The NBA will have fans appear virtually on video boards surrounding the court live during games. The home team will choose 300 fans per game. Player families can be on it too. I saw it demoed today and it's honestly really cool. Super innovative. It'll begin during seeding games. pic.twitter.com/cyiBaYG54e
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) July 24, 2020
Think back to when you played in Little League, Middle School, High School, College, or a Rec League. It felt different when someone you love was in the stands, right? Well, the stakes for an NBA player are higher than they are at any of those levels. Most of their motivation comes from within, but it also comes from the people they love.
Take Spurs starting point guard Dejounte Murray, who posts his daughter on Instagram and other social media constantly. He loves being a father and has a strong bond with his young child. If Dejounte was having a rough stretch and felt discouraged, but could look up at a video board and see his daughter on the screen, he’d go out there and hoop!
Bringing the families into this experience despite being physically separated from loved ones would at least alleviate some of the pain they feel while being apart from the people they love.
Next: No. 3 - Play team highlights during stoppage of play
3. Play San Antonio Spurs highlights and do player intros before games.
If you’ve ever been to an NBA game in-person, you know that one of the best ways that the experience excites and engages fans before tip-off is with a pre-game video and player introductions. Maybe it’s because they’re just scrimmages, but it doesn’t seem like players have a chance to do their pre-game rituals and team huddles in these conditions.
For as much as those moments entice fans, some of the players get amped up in those pre-game moments themselves. It’s a nice way to kickstart that competitive fire and make sure everyone is engaged before they enter a game. Most of the time, the arena’s announcer introduces each player from the home team with different flair while delivering the opposing lineup in a flat, monotone voice.
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Implementing that inside the bubble, even if it’s just to humor everyone involved, is one way to establish a greater sense of normalcy that we’ve all become accustomed to. By this point, it’s almost a formality to put this much emphasis on the player intros. Still, these guys work their whole lives to become amazing, world-class athletes and hear their names echoed through these arenas. The virus shouldn’t take that away from them!
Though I’m sure most of the players don’t actually care, there’s going to be a portion of them who are bummed that they don’t get to hear their names announced in the starting five. Consider Lonnie Walker IV, for example, who was just inserted to the starting lineup through the first two scrimmages. Not being able to hear his name in that starting lineup over the public address system, while inconsequential, has got to be a bit disappointing.
This doesn’t pertain to the Spurs as much as it does for the teams with bigger pre-game traditions. For example, the Sixers don’t have their bell to ring and the Heat don’t have any flame-spewing cannons before tip-off like its players are used to. Including these elements are one way to make it feel more like there’s some semblance of importance behind who’s the home team and who’s the away team.
Besides the uniforms, of course, because wearing a white jersey at home and a dark jersey for away is just about the only notable aspect of the so-called home-court advantage in Orlando.