A drummer yelled across the sand – possibly to a team of breakdancers – “Everybody looks crazy there.” In previous years, his voice would not have reached that far.
Shortly before launch, the Nets released a video of players speaking the lyrics to Bill Withers’ classic, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” dedicated to absent fans. Then Nets guard Kyrie Irving greeted the crowd on both sides of the court; In an arena with hundreds rather than thousands of people, fans could have been forgiven for thinking Irving was greeting them individually.
“It felt like he was sitting in his living room,” said Dylan Schultz, 27. “I am sitting alone with my friend. There are not many people around me. But there is still this game environment right in front of you. You could hear them talking to each other. Sick.”
Some in the building tried to keep up the traditions, like trying to interrupt opponents’ free throws. On Tuesday, that effort, normally made by thousands of fans yelling and waving objects, fell to four drummers behind the basket, occasionally joined by the five dancers. (Statistically speaking, they could claim success: The Kings shot 13 of 19 from the line, slightly below their season average.)
As for the game itself, the Nets led the most and won their seventh straight game, 127-118. Bruce Brown, the starting guard, had a rare twist in the spotlight, scoring 29 points, as did James Harden, who had a triple-double: 29 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists.
For the most part, the crowd, spread out over the court seats, the deluxe suites and the lower level, remained subdued, despite having the most hyped Nets team in years to see in person.
“It feels like you’re watching a practice session,” said Rich Schaefer, 42, a season ticket holder. “You’re in a high school gym and no one is there. But you are looking at the best players in the world. It’s not the same energy you get during sold-out games. But there is something amazing, as a basketball fan, in seeing and hearing everyone talk and not being distracted by what’s going on around you. “