A Virtual Crowd Welcomes The NBA Finals


Angela Chien, Staff Writer

The NBA Finals were just as energetic and crazy as any other year, despite the country still being under quarantine. On Sept. 30, fans of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat cheered for their favorite players through screens hung up on the walls of the Orlando venue.

As expected, a handful of big shots made an appearance. Among the virtual rows of fans were former MVPs and celebrities—such as Former President Barack Obama, Hall of Famers Shaquille O’Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—and recent retiree Dwayne Wade, who brought more attention and excitement to the game.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver found a way to bring fans back to the court without risking an outbreak in Orlando. The NBA teamed up with Microsoft to bring the game to the comfort of the fan’s home through Microsoft Teams’ “Together Mode.” Fans can appear on the screens around the court as long as they have a device compatible with the Microsoft Team app. Fans should log into the meeting invitation thirty minutes prior the tip off if they are chosen to be part of the experience.

However, it’s important to note that acquiring tickets for the virtual fan experience can be tricky, as it differs from team to team. For example, the Indiana Pacers had registration forms on their website, while the Boston Celtics gave priority to fans with season tickets.

To participate in the virtual experience, fans have to abide by a set of terms and guidelines. Here are the basic rules for the virtual fan experience:

One seat per participant. This rule allows for the best visuals on the telecast. No more than one person can appear in one virtual seat.

No offensive or inappropriate behavior. The same rules still pertain across the screen, similar to how you would and wouldn’t act at an in-person game.

No signs, commercial, or inappropriate communication. Participants will not be allowed to display signs or advertise third party organizations.

Participation throughout the event. Participants are expected to stay in their seats throughout the whole game. Lack of compliance or extended absence may result in a reassignment of their seat to another participant.

The purpose of creating a virtual crowd for the games is to stimulate fan attendance and engagement in an environment that currently demands isolation and prohibits crowd gatherings. Basketball fans have had a rough ride ever since the league was suspended in March, only to restart six months later. Many have expressed passion and readiness for the games ahead.

“It lets the players see engagement at home and is another element to bring the community closer together,” Head of the NBA NextGen Telecasts Sarah Zuckert said.

Furthermore, in efforts to recreate the fan experience, Zuckert commented that the NBA “has hype teams now and fans are participating in activities like the wave. We want to make it as much fun as we can.”

It’s hard to tell when fans and players will be able to reconvene in-person at the courts. But in the meantime, programs like NBA’s Virtual Fan Experience are helping to bridge the disconnection and rebuild the community. The virtual experience came to a pause as the season ended on Oct. 11, with the Lakers winning a 106-93 victory against the Heat.


Photo courtesy of NBA.COM