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A drummer shouted across the arena – possibly to a team of break dancers – “You all look crazy there.” In the past few years his voice would not have borne out.
Shortly before the tip, the Nets debuted with a video of players speaking the lyrics to the Bill Withers classic “Ain’t No Sunshine”, which was dedicated to absent fans. Then Kyrie Irving waved to the crowd on either side of the courtyard; In an arena with hundreds instead of thousands of people, fans may be forgiven for having Irving waving to them individually.
“It felt like you were sitting in your living room,” said Dylan Schultz, 27. “I just sit with my boyfriend. Not too many people around me. But there is still that environment of the game right in front of you. You could hear them talking to each other. Ill.”
Some in the building tried to keep traditions alive, such as interrupting the opponent’s free throw shooting. On Tuesday, that effort – usually captured by the thousands of fans screaming and waving objects – fell on four drummers behind the basket, occasionally accompanied by the five dancers. (Statistically they could claim success: the Kings shot 13 of 19 off the line, slightly below their season average.)
As for the game itself, the Nets led most of it, winning their seventh straight, 127-118. Bruce Brown, the start guard, got 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.
The crowd – spread across courtyard seating, luxury suites, and some on the lower level – was largely restrained, although the most hyped Nets team had been seen in person for years.
“It feels like you’re watching a training session,” said Rich Schaefer, 42, a season ticket holder. “You are in a high school and there is nobody there. But you see the best players in the world. It’s not the same energy you get from sold out games. But as a basketball fan, it’s something incredible to see and hear everyone talking and not get distracted by what’s going on around you. “