This year the pandemic affected the NBA more than any other sport as it shut down the league in the middle of the 2019-20 season. The league went from playing games in arenas packed with NBA fans in the stands to playing in a bubble in Orlando with virtual fans.
On the eve of starting the 2020-21 NBA campaign, the pandemic is still raging, but the bubble is a thing of the past as teams will be playing in their home markets. Some teams will allow fans. Others will not. Quite a few are still undecided. Here’s a breakdown of what NBA teams will allow fans in the stands for the start of the 2020-21 season.
What other sports have done with COVID and allowing fans
When the NBA returned to action with no fans in the stands at the Orlando bubble in July, it provided the template for other leagues interested in pursuing a bubble concept. To the league’s credit, the teams experienced a minimal amount of cases in Florida and no outbreaks.
However, the same cannot be said of MLB and the NFL, who opted to travel. The Miami Marlins experienced a COVID-19 outbreak in July where 18 players tested positive, multiple games were postponed, and the front office scrambled to maintain a full roster.
The NFL has encountered more than its share of problems throughout the season. The Ravens had an outbreak with 30 players missing time, including MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson.
From a fan perspective or lack thereof, MLB did not allow any fans during the entirety of its pandemic-shortened 60-game regular season. There were 11,500 fans allowed at the NLCS and World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
The NFL, however, left it up to the individual teams and their respective state guidelines. As of mid-December, multiple teams such as the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys were allowing more than 10,000 fans in a game.
Few NBA teams will have fans in the stands to start 2020-21 season
For the start of the 2020-21 NBA season, there will be only a handful of teams allowing any fans in the stands. The Cleveland Cavaliers will allow the smallest number of NBA fans in the stands at 300, which is based on state-restricted guidelines.
The Utah Jazz will allow 1,500 fans in the stands in the arena’s lower bowl, as well as some limited suite-level seating. The New Orleans Pelicans will allow 750 fans while the Houston Rockets will allow the most to start the season at 4,500.
The most interesting situation for fans is in Florida, where two teams will allow fans in the stands. Based on state health and safety protocols, the Orlando Magic will allow 4,000 NBA fans in the stands for the start of the 2020-21 season.
The other unique setup will happen at Tampa Bay’s Amalie Arena, which is home of the Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning and temporary home of the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors, banned from playing in Canada, will be allowed to have 3,800 NBA fans in the stands to start the season.
NBA arenas without fans in the stands
While there are currently just four NBA teams that have announced plans for allowing fans into the stands, the remaining 26 teams have offered a variety of plans and timelines for fans returning to the stands.
Some teams have explicitly stated they will not have fans to start the season, and they include: Brooklyn, Charlotte, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Indiana, LA Lakers, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Antonio, and Washington.
Less than a week before the start of the 2020-21 NBA season, and plenty of teams have still yet to offer an official position on allowing fans. These teams include: Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Golden State, LA Clippers, Memphis, Miami, Minnesota, New York, Philadelphia, and Portland.
While it’s not ideal to have just a few teams allowing fans in the stands to start the season, it’s a start. And it’s not the bubble. These are baby steps toward a return to normalcy, and right now, NBA fans will take whatever they can get.