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New NBA Look Is Challenging, Also Welcome

Games look different inside the Orlando “bubble”. What are the best and worst things about the restart so far?

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Boston Celtics Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

It’s felt like years, but after a sudden shut down back in March, NBA basketball is back. Several scrimmages and the first official games of the re-start are in the books, and things are looking a little different than they used to. Because the NBA is currently in a “bubble”, trying to keep everyone as safe as possible, no spectators from outside attend the games. In a sport that fills stadiums with tens of thousands of people, this is a drastic departure from the norm.

The lack of a live crowd makes a difference. Almost every camera angle includes fans normally. Crowd noise fills the stadium and becomes a soundtrack for the game. Watching without the live audience has been odd—more like seeing practice—but the experience has grown on me. I find that I’m not easily distracted; the focus is very much on the game. I have easily adjusted to this format. I might even prefer It.

I’m interested to see how this plays out for the players as the season gets underway. I think that for the most part, everyone will adjust fairly quickly, but you never know. Will this be a disadvantage for teams used to a packed, loud stadium? Will It be an advantage for more introverted players who thrive in an environment with less crowd distractions?

With no fans in attendance, the NBA has added giant screens all around the court. The screens switch between the home team’s logos and video-conferenced fans. It looks almost like you’re watching a video game with all the graphics surrounding the court.

The screens are an attempt to give the home team some semblance of home court advantage, but as a viewer, it’s almost overwhelming. When they switch to fans video feeds, it’s quite a sight. Suddenly there are heads of different sizes, some clear and some glitchy, all silently watching from home while artificial crowd noise is played in the background. While I don’t love this feature, I will admit it’s been fun to see some familiar faces pop up here and there.

We have been seeing a lot more close up shots of players. Anytime there's down time during the game, when the stands would usually be shown, the cameras focus instead on the athletes. We get to see expressions and reactions we normally wouldn't. This has made these games immensely more enjoyable in my opinion. This angle is often lost in a typical broadcast.

We are also getting to hear more audio than is typical for televised games. With less background noise, player voices are more audible. I really would have loved to see the players mic’d up in this venue. It would have been entertaining to hear the trash talking and the back and forth between the teams.

Referees seem to be making more calls in the bubble games. In Friday’s game, the Blazers and the Memphis Grizzlies drew a combined 62 fouls. That amounted to 84 free throws between the two teams. Those are game-changing numbers, higher than average. The game took a long time to play. While I’m all for hours of basketball at a time, the constant calls really made It tough to watch. It felt choppy and frustrating. I’m hopeful that as bubble play continues, the refs will get into a groove just as much as the players.

My favorite part of this format may be the camera angles. The filming has been incredible, putting you right into the game. Sitting at home on my couch feels like being on right on the court.There is nothing quite like being in the arena when your team plays, but watching the games from angles we aren’t used to seeing comes close.

Change is hard. Altering how the games looks has been one of the costs of bringing the season back. Some changes have been an improvement, though. How has it been for you? What have you liked about this way of doing things? What would you change? Let me know in the comments.