Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James pushed the ball hard toward their frontcourt, eluding a phalanx of defenders before posterizing Sacramento Kings forward Nemanja Bjelica with his monster dunk.
The crowd went wild.
That would be the normal reaction of spectators at the Staples Center. However, with the National Basketball Association and other sports considering returning to play in empty stadiums at these no ordinary times, the sound of the roaring crowd will be greatly missed.
While we can still watch these exciting games at the comforts of our home, sports enthusiasts that Saipan Tribune polled believe this temporary (we hope) setup will make a big impact in the games and those that play them, as both thrive with the adoring and sometimes, borderline fanatic crowd in tow.
“From my perspective, because we can watch live from Saipan, I don’t think it will have much impact for those that watch it on television. Although they are professional athletes and do so much good in the communities, they play to entertain fans,” said Preston Basa, a perennial member of the CNMI Men’s National Basketball Team and head coach of Marianas High School.
“Will we be entertained? Of course! The issue for me is whether or not the athletes are willing to do it. Yes, they make millions, however, they are human beings with families and loved ones. It is still a risk for them to sacrifice their health and potentially affecting their families in order to play to entertain those that are staying at home to avoid the spread of the disease. If players are willing to do so, I support it. I have always been a fan of sports and enjoy watching the best of the best compete,” Basa added.
Kaia Travilla, who plays for Mt. Carmel High School and Rollers Basketball Club, said that athletes may have special skills and are physical fitter than normal people, but that does not guarantee they won’t be affected by the coronavirus.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea right now given that the players aren’t immune to the virus and they could be affected at any time, regardless if there are fans around or not. This temporary setup might also upset others that agree to keep social distancing between everyone,” Travilla said.
“However, if they will still go through with live games, I think people would still watch because sports is a big thing,” she added.
Alvin Alvarez, who serves as game announcer in various basketball leagues on island, witnessed how spectators boost the players’ morale and playing sans the fans, he thinks, will affect the quality of matches.
“Players are endeared to their fans because of their showmanship, for one. Players then are pumped up to see the crowd cheering for them. Without the spectators to motivate them, their game will definitely be different. It’s not a live game without live fans,” Alvarez said.
If a small group of spectators is frowned upon, what if there’s totally none?
“This will certainly be a different feeling for fans such as myself seeing a crowd-less sports arena. I believe even the athletes will feel different playing without having the crowd to feed off energy and excitement from. In fact, it might feel like regular pick up games for them. But if this is a temporary solution to be able to see our favorite athletes playing again or even better have the misplaced workers getting back their jobs, then this would be a great idea and I am all for it,” said Clint Albert, a league organizer.
Meanwhile, when Bundesliga (professional football league in Germany) returned to action last weekend and featured the then highly anticipated duel between Union Berlin and Bayern Munich, the Stadium at the Old Forester’s House was without fans, who are known for shouting at the top of their lungs every game. At the pitch, goals were celebrated with lonely gestures such as reluctant fist bumps and elbow touches.
In another stadium, acting on impulse, Hertha Berlin players hugged after scoring a goal in their 3-0 win over Hoffenheim. After the match, league officials announced that teams will be reminded anew to observe safety guidelines, including avoiding group celebrations.
These scenarios on and off the pitch are what make a soccer game a religion for fans and players alike, according to MP United Football Club technical director Norman Del Rosario.
“Sports stadiums are curious places, especially for soccer. They are architectural wonder, though a handful take the breath away: the Stadium of Light in Lisbon, where Benfica’s eagle flies around the field before each game; Tottenham’s new home, still with that new paint feel. What lifts them, what makes them feel special, is the history etched into the walls, and the people that fill their stands. They come to life,” Del Rosario said.
“The presence of fans transforms these places into something that makes the heart soar, and it transforms the games those fans come to watch. There is no point playing soccer again until people are allowed in to watch it. Football without fans is nothing, literally applies more now than ever,” he added.