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When NBA eventually returns to arenas, could there be no courtside seats at first?

No fans NBA games

The seats are empty at the Amway Center in Orlando, home of the NBAs Orlando Magic, on Thursday, March 12, 2020. The NBA has suspended the season due to the coronavirus. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

TNS via Getty Images

The focus on restarting the NBA season has been on the current one: Will there be regular season games? A bubble in Las Vegas? When will it start, and how deep into the summer and fall is the league willing to go? Can the NBA find a way to crown a legitimate champion?

There is another question beyond that: What will the start of the next season look like?

If the 2020-21 season tips off this calendar year, before a vaccine for the coronavirus is widely available, what will games in arenas look like? What will be done to protect both players and the people who sit courtside and come in contact with the players?

It’s possible the NBA would re-open without courtside seats, or maybe with plexiglass up kind of like a hockey game, several people suggest in an interesting story by Adam Aziz at The Undefeated.

“We have to be more informed about the virus, flus, all viruses, so we can better understand how to protect players and fans … I wouldn’t rule plexiglass out,” said Caron Butler, a two-time All-Star who retired from the NBA after the 2015-16 season. “If you told me a year ago the NBA and the world would stop, I would say you are out of your mind.”...

“It is my belief the NBA will return in a three-step process,” said Randy Osei, an entrepreneur and owner of Rozaay Management, which has worked with players such as Danny Green, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Dillon Brooks. “I can see the NBA resuming its condensed season initially with no fans in attendance, then move to no fans courtside or on the floor, and then finally allow fans on the floor but eliminate courtside and row B until the right strenuous screening measures are put into place to protect everyone.”

That progression seems logical (although the NBA and teams are not discussing this, for obvious reasons). Still, it will be strange at first with no fans, then none courtside.

Part of fans’ connection to the NBA is the intimacy of it. Some lucky (and wealthy) fans get to sit courtside and hear what LeBron James is saying to Anthony Davis or listen in on Patrick Beverley’s trash talk to, well, everyone.

However, for 99 percent of fans that intimacy comes via television cameras, which can zoom in on the exposed faces of the players and allow us to see their expressions and do some lip-reading. That will not change.

But the intimacy of the sport will feel a little different without those fans surrounding the edge of the court.

The NBA is different than football, the fans are closer and there are no helmets. The NBA is different than the NHL, there is no plexiglass separating the players and the fans.

When it returns, the NBA will be and feel a little different, at least at first.