Searching for the words to describe the weirdness of playing sports in a bubble, Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog offered a concise description of what it’s like to be alive in 2020.
“The world feels, at times, like it’s turned upside down,” Landeskog said. “Everything else is different. So why would the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs be normal?”
From thousands of COVID-19 deaths to the killing of George Floyd, with all upheaval this sad, crazy and life-altering year has put us through, could it be that sports in America will never be quite the same?
We miss sports, we do.
But going out to the ballgame? That’s a whole different story. It’s a story that bears watching, as the bubble boys of the NBA and NHL get back to work, intent on crowning a champ without fans in the stands.
I recently asked Nuggets guard Jamal Murray what’s it going to be like playing in an arena with no home-court advantage, because no spectators will be allowed inside the bubble.
“That’s one of the big game-changers for everybody, me included, me especially,” Murray said, “just because the fans get me going, I get the fans going and it’s a back-and-forth energy.”
No disrespect to any rose-bearing hunk on “The Bachelor,” but sports are the original — and remain the best — reality television show in America.
Here’s the new twist: Like spending money in a restaurant or sitting through a meeting at the office, maybe we’ve discovered attending just any old sporting event is over-rated, especially when you have a better seat in front of a high-definition, wide-screen TV at home.
I hate to be the one to break this to Rockies owner Dick Monfort or the Denver Broncos, but fighting traffic to pay a king’s ransom for tickets and beer, is a bad habit that 2020 is coaxing us to break.
Nothing about the party deck at Coors Field works with social distancing. Social distancing has caused many of us to re-evaluate if we really need to go shopping at the mall, or sit in a theater to watch a movie, or put up with a drunk fan in the stands at a Broncos game.
Peter Grondorf and his wife were season-ticket holders in the South Stands for nearly 30 years. Even before the coronavirus hit, they decided to let the tickets go, because Grondorf said the stadium now seems like a “76,000-seat bar without enough bouncers. We enjoyed going in the past, but will not miss it now.”
After the pandemic, teams will have to work harder to win back the loyalty of ticket-buyers. In ways both small and large, 2020 will change how we do sports forever.
After more than 40 years in the presence of naked men in the locker room, I might never again stand and wait for Nuggets center Nikola Jokic to pull on his SpongeBob underpants before I get to ask him about the no-look pass. Once the locker room is closed during a pandemic, it might be difficult for the media to pry open that door again.
And down in Florida, where wearing a mask is considered a sign of weakness despite a recent spike in coronavirus cases, the NBA is building Pleasantville, complete with a 100-page manual of safe practices for coaches and players in the bubble. It’s a document that seems to be inspired by Robert Lopshire’s classic children’s book, “Put Me in the Zoo.”
Two of my favorite NBA guidelines for a hermetically sealed resumption of this season: Licking of fingers or wiping the ball on a jersey before shooting a free throw is a no-no. Away from the court, ping-pong is an acceptable recreational activity, so long as there are no doubles games that would violate 6 feet of distancing protocols.
Without fans in the stands, sports are robbed of more than the 40 percent revenue that’s the root cause of bickering between major-league baseball players and franchise owners. The sense of community, which I cherish as sports’ most essential beauty, is lost when there’s no roar of the crowd.
Like the Thanksgiving meal or a rock concert, sports are not meant to be enjoyed alone. Seeing Daniel Berger win a PGA tourney on an empty golf course felt weird; it felt like a Jim Nantz report from Zombie Land. So while I respect NHL and NBA players for their willingness to put on a show for us in these strange times, it’s going to feel odd, almost voyeuristic, to watch the bubble boys under glass.
“The world is a crazy place right now,” Landeskog said.
So why should the sports world, or how we watch sports in 2020, be any different?
Landeskog said it better than I ever could: “Some days, it feels like the apocalypse …”