One drummer yelled across the arena — possibly to a team of breakdancers — “You all look wack over there.” In previous years, his voice would not have carried so far.
Shortly before tipoff, the Nets debuted a video of players speaking the lyrics to the Bill Withers classic, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” dedicated to absent fans. Then Kyrie Irving waved to the crowd on both sides of the court; in an arena with hundreds instead of thousands of people, fans might have been forgiven for thinking Irving was waving to them individually.
“It felt like you were sitting in your living room,” said Dylan Schultz, 27. “I’m sitting just with my friend. Not too many people around me. But there’s still this environment of the game is right directly in front of you. You could hear them talking to each other. Sick.”
Some in the building tried to keep up traditions, like trying to interrupt opponent’s free-throw shooting. On Tuesday, that effort — normally taken up by thousands of fans screaming and waving objects — fell to four drummers behind the basket, joined occasionally 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 far as the game itself, the Nets led most of it and won their seventh straight, 127-118. Bruce Brown, the starting guard, got a rare turn 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 — scattered throughout courtside seats, luxury suites and some in the lower level — stayed subdued, in spite of having the most hyped Nets team in years to watch in person.
“It feels like you’re watching a practice session,” said Rich Schaefer, 42, a season-ticket holder. “You’re at a high school gym, and there’s no one there. But you’re watching the best players in the world. It’s not the same energy you get during sold-out games. But there is something incredible, as a basketball fan, of watching and hearing everybody talking and not being distracted by what’s happening around you.”