What are NBA games like for the few fans in attendance?

The countdown clock read 64 minutes until tipoff when the first announcement interrupted the music playing over a mostly quiet backdrop. 

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“Welcome to today’s event at Bankers Life Fieldhouse,” the announcer blared over the PA. “The doors are now open. The doors are now open.”

“My House” by Flo Rida blared over the arena’s speakers welcoming the first fans in. Guest services employees lined up at the entrances, but for about five minutes after the announcement, no one had arrived. Jon and Claudine Hiott were among the first. They were here early, around 12:15 p.m. Traffic was nonexistent on the way in, parking was even easier. There probably won’t be any lines at concessions, either. They sat in their seats in section 113 with their two children, Jaxson and Calvin, and stared off into a mostly empty stadium.

a screen shot of a computer: Bankers Life Fieldhouse

© Kelly Wilkinson, Indianapolis Star
Bankers Life Fieldhouse

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“It’s almost eerie but awesome at the same time,” Jon said.

“It’s very different,” Claudine agreed.

But in this case, it couldn’t have worked any better. The first day of general admission access at Bankers Life Fieldhouse just happened to be Calvin’s 13th birthday. And he loves the Pacers. His favorite player is Malcolm Brogdon. Jon jumped online immediately when tickets went up.

“Let the boys take it in,” Jon said.

Thirty minutes before the game, the stadium was almost totally empty. And around gametime it didn’t fill up much more. That part of the experience was odd, fans said, but it’s not without its benefits.

Indiana, which caps attendance at 1,000 fans, is one of just nine teams that will allow fans at their games, with The New York Times reporting Atlanta and Miami will allow fans starting next week.

a group of people standing around a motorcycle: From left, Cavlin, Claudine, Jon and Jaxson Hiott at the Pacers-Raptors game Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

© Michael McCleary | Indianapolis Star
From left, Cavlin, Claudine, Jon and Jaxson Hiott at the Pacers-Raptors game Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Kevin and Emily Joseph were glad they could enjoy themselves with their young children, free of crowds. Andrew Neely was excited to yell from his second-deck seats, knowing it’s likely the players could actually hear him. Jerrell and Carol Clark got to enjoy the comfy seats in the lower bowl, fresh off the new renovations

Sunday was the Clarks’ first live event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the protocols put in place by the Pacers were better than they expected. Jerrell, who has been a Pacers fan since 1967, urged Carol the game would be safe, but he said even he was impressed with the way the protocols were enforced.

Masks are required. Sections are zoned off and color-coded. Signs along the concourse separated foot traffic into lanes. The seats are so spread out, groups of two put their feet up on the chairs in front of them.

All throughout the game, the Pacers entertained fans with socially-distanced trivia games and messages from the Pacers players welcoming them to the stadium for the first time.

“Very pleased about it,” Carol said of the protocols. “Very shocked.”

Around five minutes before gametime, Karl and Angela Brady wandered the concourse in search of an open concessions stand. They had gotten there late because they figured there was nothing they could do. They were mostly right. The lounges they used to spend time at before games were closed. Karl said they even had to walk a considerable distance — but not too far — to find a concessions stand that was open. 

As they wandered back toward their section, they said the experience will certainly be different. Even coming late, they were still able to get a spot in the third level of the parking garage. Usually a late arrival would get a spot on the roof. If they’re lucky. The traffic was pretty light, too. That was the best part, Karl said.

They gathered their food and drink and headed toward the curtains that separated their seats from the concourse.

“Hopefully, it’s a great game and the Pacers win,” Karl said. He grinned beneath his mask. They both headed inside right as players walked onto the court for the tip.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: What are NBA games like for the few fans in attendance?

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