SALT LAKE CITY — Late in the first quarter, Dan Roberts’ familiar booming voice filled Vivint Arena to remind the 1,932 fans in attendance on Saturday for Utah’s first home that despite the protocols put in place to hopefully keep everyone safe, there was still risk involved in watching a game in person.
“No precautions can eliminate the risk of exposure to COVID-19,” he read.
The Jazz are one of six NBA teams that are allowing fans as the season begins (Cleveland, Houston, New Orleans, Orlando and Toronto, who are playing games in Tampa, are the others with more teams hoping to join in as the season continues). As noted by the team itself, it’s a risk. Yes, the seats are socially distanced, hand sanitizing stations are in abundance, and maks are required, but hundreds of people all cheering together may not be the safest activity during a pandemic.
Still, after months of hearing nothing but pumped in fan noise, it was no doubt refreshing to hear real cheers after a Rudy Gobert dunk or the loud-ish boos when a call went against the home team.
Those were the moments where it felt like the soul of sports had partially returned. And that may have just been the motivating factor to bring the people back into the arena for the first time since March. The Jazz have said, true or not, that it was not a revenue-based decision.
Even in a 116-111 loss, those moments served as good news. The bad: Over a thousand people were sharing the same room (albeit a very large one) during a pandemic. But for the fans that chose to come, they thought the protocols were good enough to keep them safe, or at least the risk was worth it.
“I feel good,” Jazz fan Garrett Watts said. “Obviously I think it’s like a stadium that fits 20,000 people (18,300) so 1,500 I feel like it’s fine.”
The Jazz taped off all the non-tickets seats, making sure groups of fans had to stay socially distanced while watching the game. Common spaces, like elevators, restrooms and retails stops, all had reduced capacity. No bags or purses were allowed — with the exception of diaper and medical bags.
But even with the protocols in place, there were some hesitations from some of the fans to enter an arena once again — but ultimately the desire to see the Jazz in person won out.
“Yeah, I mean, I definitely had some reservations about coming tonight at all,” Jazz fan Chris Hollender said. “But I am not sick. And I’m totally willing to follow all of the COVID guidelines, obviously the mask. And I just love the Jazz. I want to support the Jazz, you know what I mean?”
At least 1,932 people do.
It gave a sense of normalcy to the fans — gathering together again to cheer for a team they loved.
“I expect that people are gonna cheer their hearts out and there’s only 1,500 of us, but I know that it’s 1,500 really dedicated fans who are ready to scream their lungs out,” Hollender said before the game.
And it gave a sense of normalcy to the players. After going through a crowd-less bubble and playing in mostly-empty NBA arenas in the preseason, it felt enlivening to hear a real-life crowd again.
“I’m not gonna lie, it was a breath of fresh air for all of us,” Mike Conley said. “It sounded like there were a lot more. It was great to have them in the building, it was great to have our families. It was a great atmosphere.”
Is that atmosphere worth the risk? That’s for the fans to decide.