Look there. That’s the scorer’s table that Michael Jordan danced on to celebrate title No. 5 in 1997. Friday night, just five people sat at it, socially distanced of course.
In the end zone where Derrick Rose once ran to celebrate a victory with adoring fans, two cars sat. Hey, sponsor revenue must come from somewhere in a mostly empty United Center.
The Bulls’ preseason opener Friday night felt as odd as you might’ve envisioned. With tarps covering the empty 100 level seating and loud music reverberating off deserted 300 level walls, it might’ve recalled the inaugural 1966-67 season in the long-since-razed International Amphitheatre for those old-timers out there.
Yes, this season and all the effects of the global pandemic will be a different experience for all.
“It’s different,” Coby White said. “A lot of us players feed off the energy of the fans. It’s something you gotta get used to. It’s the way the NBA is now. The quicker you adjust, the better things will be for you.”
From John Wall’s very audible primal scream following his driving hoop just 16 seconds after tipoff to the moments when the music stopped and the sneakers squeaked, the fan-less experience proved positively eerie at times.
Even the bench configurations sat differently. The coaches sat in a front row, masked and casually dressed in pullovers. A second row of chairs featured support staff distanced from players, who also sat in a third, spillover row.
“It was kind of strange,” Wendell Carter Jr. said. “We had to bring our own energy to the game. I think that’s something we have to work on as a team. We just kind of feed off the fans sometimes. Now that we can’t do that, we have to find ways to find energy.”
Radio play-by-play man Chuck Swirsky certainly provided some. In the new world of the postgame press conference, as arena workers cleaned the floor and team bench areas, Swirsky could be heard wrapping up his postgame show despite being at the other end of the arena.
It was that kind of odd night.