I would urge the NBA to reconsider. Play the games in an empty arena and broadcast it as it happens. Basketball is exciting enough that it doesn’t need fake audio to help get it over. Players are used to practicing in fan-free arenas and those watching at home might enjoy hearing the nuances that normally get lost behind crowd noise. Shoes screeching on the hardwood, the swish of the net as a player drains a three-pointer, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat – all maximized.
The NBA Board of Governors this week approved plans to restart league play on July 31, 2020, a date that was also agreed upon by the National Basketball Players Association. Hoops fans were no doubt overjoyed to receive the news but as officials continue to hammer out the details of the unprecedented move, one area that is of particular interest is the crowd.
Attendance by the public is almost certainly out of the question for the remainder of the season and perhaps into early next season. Without fans in the stands, you don’t get any crowd noise and for most involved, that could take the most getting used to.
One possible workaround that is being discussed, per Shams Charania with The Atlantic, is to pipe in audio from the NBA 2K video game series to simulate crowd noise. But is that really the best idea, to try and fake the experience? Allow me to elaborate.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship was the first major sport to emerge out of Covid-19 and it did so with a live event on May 9. Typically contested in front of thousands of fans, the fights were held in an empty arena that was eerily silent. But that silence meant that every punch, kick and takedown was magnified. Best yet, you could clearly hear the fighters quipping at each other and even make out the instructions the coaches were feeding their athletes. It was different from the norm, sure, but also quite enjoyable.
Had the UFC pumped in fake crowd noise, it would have killed that organic vibe and cheapened the overall experience.