San Antonio, Orlando plan to have limited fans at games; Chicago will not

When the NBA season tips off, a handful of teams will have some fans in their arenas to cheer them on, while most will not. Is that fair? It’s a global pandemic, absolutely nothing is fair.

When announcing their season schedules, the San Antonio Spurs and Orlando Magic said they hope to welcome some fans to their arenas (for the Spurs, that is for games starting Jan. 1). They join the Utah Jazz in announcing they will have a limited number of fans, and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who will have just 300 fans at each game. Other teams (Houston, for example) have plans to bring in fans but have not yet made a formal announcement.

“We’ve been planning for this moment for months and are confident in the health and safety protocols we have in place,” said Spurs CEO RC Buford in a statement. “Waiting until Jan. 1 will allow us to run through real in-game scenarios to ensure that we are doing everything possible to responsibly celebrate the start of a new season with our Spurs Family…

“Our priority remains protecting the health and wellness of our community, our fans, our staff and our players,” Buford said. “All of us are excited for the day we can safely welcome our Spurs Family back to the AT&T Center. We are hopeful that Jan. 1 will be that day.”

Far more teams say they will not have fans crowded into an indoor space to start the season. The Chicago Bulls joined that list this past week.

“The health and safety of our fans, players and staff remains our top priority, and after careful consideration in collaboration with the NBA and city and state officials, we will not be hosting fans in the United Center for the beginning of the 2020-21 NBA season,” the team said in a statement. “We will continue working with the league and city and state officials to evaluate conditions to determine if there is a timeline that would allow for fans later this season.”

The Lakers were one of the first to publicly announce they would not have fans in the building to start the season, and despite the elaborate plans in Golden State, it is safe to say none of the California teams will have fans in the building when the season tips off. Same with the New York teams.

With COVID-19 cases spiking and hospitals filling up from coast to coast, empty NBA arenas will be more the norm when the season tips off Dec. 22. While the league has issued guidelines for having fans at games — the league hopes to see fans in suites, which are the most expensive seats in the building and not near the players — rules and restrictions at the local level supersede them. Each state, each region is moving at a different pace in what has become a politicized issue.

It is the hope of the league and teams that the restrictions and regulations will be loosened as the NBA season moves along, as more people get the vaccine and — knocks on wood — the virus starts to fade (maybe because people start wearing masks, social distancing, and taking precautions). The ultimate hope is to have full buildings again when the 2021-22 season tips off in October of next year, but nobody really knows where we will be as a nation with the virus at that point.