A DDF member sent me a message last week that he had Cavs season tickets, but wasn’t able to use his tickets for the game on this past Sunday, would I like to go?
The Cavs were one of the few NBA teams allowing fans in their arena after the state of Ohio agreed to allow 300 fans attend games. The Cavs equipped the arena with bipolar ionization to clean the air in the arena, and the process has been showed to neutralize more than 99.9% of airborne coronavirus.
I invited my friend Adam, who was infected with COVID-19 along with me on a trip to NYC in February, to come along for the show.
Similar to my feeling when I was going to break 5 month hiatus from flying, I was thrilled to finally be able to attend a live sports game. It was much earlier than I thought I’d be able to return indoors to see something like this.
It hit us as we were driving downtown when there was zero traffic going to the game that this experience would be far from normal. I parked my car right across the street from Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, where street parking would normally be blocked for the game.
We got to the arena 20 minutes before tipoff. Normally the security entrance would be jammed with fans. But it was a ghost town with just employees standing around:
Tickets are all electronic and you need to fill out a COVID-19 survey before entering the arena in order to access your ticket.
I had no problem bringing in a laffa sandwich from Arova by explaining that I only ate kosher food.
We were warmly greeted by every employee, thanking us for returning to the arena. It was oddly reminiscent of entering a luxurious resort and getting personally greeted by everyone.
We went down to check out the seating situation, where green stickers indicated where fans were seated. Most rows had a maximum of just 4 fans in them and you were always more than 6 feet away from other parties:
Then we went to walk around the concourse, which had plenty of open concession stands, but no fans in sight:
The stands are not accepting any cash, you had to pay for everything on a credit or debit card to limit interaction with employees.
Plastic bags in the bathrooms ensured social distancing, though I never saw anyone else using them during the game:
Adam bought a tub of popcorn and started eating some when the usher (who held up a “masks on” sign throughout the game) came over to ask him to please practice active eating and wear the mask in between bites.
I’ll allow him to explain:
On the court, everything was normal, with the players warming up and smoke machines filling the arena:
The pregame show was just as they have if there were 20,000 fans:
Except that the mascot, Sir CC, was wearing a mask:
The players are tested daily and don’t socially distance:
And finally it was time for tipoff:
Nearly all of the fans are seated in half of the lower bowl, leaving the half with the players benches nearly empty.
The most jarring part of the game is the piped in fan noise. With maximum attendance at 300 and actual attendance perhaps half of that, there is not a lot of cheering that can be heard, so it’s piped in from the speakers:
Could this really be the same arena where I filmed this happening just 4 years ago during the NBA Finals?
And where the concourses were once filled with chanting fans? Watching videos like this today seem like they were taken from an alternate universe!
But the noise decibel level, as indicated on Cleveland’s Guardians of Traffic sculptures (and potential source of the Cleveland Indians’ future name?), still found a way to max out…
Free popcorn refills are given out as whole bags instead of refilling the tub:
There was no halftime entertainment, unless you count the guy climbing a ladder to sanitize the basket as the show:
With so few fans in attendance there’s no need to beat the rush for the concession stands and bathrooms at halftime.
Employees were just standing around with nothing to do:
Not a sight you’ve ever seen at halftime before:
We tried walking around the arena, but half of the lower bowl and all of the upper bowl was closed off to fans.
The Cavs played 4 solid quarters of quality basketball on both ends of the court and the game was very fun to watch.
With so little crowd noise, you could shout at the players from any of the seats and they could hear you perfectly!
But as unique and exciting as the experience was to have what was practically a private NBA game just for us, it was also a bit depressing. A game needs live fans, not piped in crowd noise. This was an odd combo of weird and exhilarating all the same time.
But hey, a win is a win!
OK, so maybe the game won’t be as memorable as going to game 7 of the NBA Finals and seeing the Cavs first championship was, but as with so many oddities of 2020, it certainly is something I won’t forget anytime soon!
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When we exited the arena, we once again walked through a gauntlet of employees thanking us for coming and wishing a safe drive home.
As I’m writing this comes the news that Ohio has now approved the Cavs to host 1,944 fans in attendance. I’d imagine they will have to open up additional sections in order to make that happen with social distancing. The Cavs excelled at the dry run with a couple hundred fans, and I’m sure they’ll be able to do the same with a couple thousand fans in attendance.
Have you been to sports events during the pandemic era? What are you looking forward to doing once again when the pandemic is over?