OKC Thunder: 1 year later – reflecting on the night the NBA shutdown

A year ago on this date, the world changed! March 11th, 2020 the OKC Thunder were set to host the Utah Jazz in a divisional showdown that would impact the playoff seedings.  But as the teams prepared to take the court suddenly everything stopped.

No one watching will ever forget Donnie Strack running up the officials, then Quin Snyder and Billy Donovan joining the group. Or Chris Paul asking a Jazz player where Gobert was. And then, suddenly, both teams exiting the court to return to their locker rooms.

The PA announcer at Chesapeake Energy Arena advised the game was canceled and politely asked fans to leave the arena ‘due to unforseen circumstances’.  While watching live it seemed to be happening in slow motion as the reality of what was occurring sunk in. And yet, in hindsight watching it in play back it was all over in a flash.

Shortly after, news Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19 was cited as the reason for the game cancellation. Before night’s end, the NBA temporary suspended play across the league, and shortly after every major league sport followed suit.

Everyone has their own personal date they associate with the pandemic and for many including the narrator, March 11th will forever be forged in our minds. In spite of my sister P.J. (a nurse) warning of what was inevitably coming – – this night suddenly made everything personal and frighteningly real.

OKC Thunder mark year anniversary of NBA shutdown, confirm no fans this season at Chesapeake

A Disney bubble, truncated offseason, and reduced 72-game 2020-21 campaign have followed. Life is far from being back to normal, yet there are signs things are slowly improving.

Some believe the situation has completely turned a corner and as such the Texas Rangers of Major League Baseball announced they will allow full capacity this season or 40,000 fans. Admittedly, they are the outliers as most MLB teams will allow between 20 and 30 percent attendance with a few allowing up to 50 percent (Orioles).

Baseball occurs outside which is a safer situation than for NBA fans who are seated in an enclosed arena. While masks are required fans can remove them to eat and drink which essentially nullify’s the benefit of wearing them at all.

Just a week ago almost half of NBA teams weren’t allowing fan attendance but that dynamic is changing daily. Presumably, the uptick in vaccinations and specific States lifting some restrictions is part of the reason for the shift.

Nine teams are not allowing fan attendance or haven’t announced plans yet including the Bulls, Nuggets, Warriors, Lakers, Clippers, Wolves, Blazers, Kings, and Wizards.

The OKC Thunder are the only team to definitively rule out fans this season. Royce Young of ESPN provided the update that cited why the franchise is electing to err on the side of health and safety:

But despite a positive trend line in dropping cases and hospitalizations in the state, the Thunder made the final decision to continue the season without fans, citing that it is “too soon” and that there are “too many variables that still must be overcome” to bring thousands of fans back into the arena.

“Our long-term personal relationships with our fans are something that we value deeply, and as we look toward our future with you, it is critical for us to ensure that when you do come back, it is in a safer environment than the one we are currently in,” the team said.

As for the other 20 teams, five allow up to 10 percent admission, another six 20 to 25 percent with nine teams landing in the middle ground of 12 to 17 percent.

Teams allowing 10 percent capacity:

  • Hawks -with  a view to gradual increases
  • Pistons – 750 fans (or 3.6 percent) as of March 17th
  • Nets
  • Bucks
  • Knicks

Teams allowing 12 to 17 percent capacity:

  • Celtics – 12 percent starting March 22nd
  • Hornets – 15 percent starting March 13th
  • Cavaliers – 14 percent
  • Heat – building to 14 percent
  • Pelicans – 16 percent
  • 76ers – 15 percent starting March 14th
  • Suns – 16 percent
  • Spurs – 17 percent
  • Raptors 17 percent

Teams allowing up to 25 percent capacity:

  • Rockets – 25 percent
  • Mavericks – (1500 currently) building to 25 percent
  • Pacers – building to 25 percent
  • Grizzlies – 20 percent
  • Magic – 20 percent
  • Jazz – 21 percent

Perhaps fans are disappointed by the OKC Thunder decision but the team made a valid observation regarding the quality of the product. Chesapeake and Thunder Nation are known as one of the loudest arenas with a captive and encouraging fan base.

As such this decision seems partially based on respect.  Attending a game with the current restrictions of spacing and mandated masks is a far different experience.

Although for some fans simply getting to be in the building is exhilarating. But the restrictions would be ample – not being able to eat, drink, and needing to cheer through a mask. Not having that rush of being surrounded, shoulder to shoulder by like-minded Thunder supporters who ride the wave of game momentum with you. This scenario simply doesn’t allow for the full fan experience.

Moving forward, it’s hard to know when or even if attending a sporting event will ever resemble what it did in the pre-pandemic world.

For now, we’ll have to suffice with tucking into our favorite chair and cheering the Thunder on from the safety of our living rooms.

As Intentions reflects back on the year anniversary of that fateful night, here’s wishing everyone good health, safety, and our best wishes life is nearing a return to normalcy.