By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It’s almost a foregone conclusion that when the NBA and other leagues return to action, they will do so without fans in the stands. That presents a unique challenge for viewers at home — or as Celtics head coach Brad Stevens likes to view it, an opportunity for the league.
It will certainly be odd to watch a game with zero fan noise accompanying the action. European soccer leagues have tried adding fan noise to their broadcasts, but that has garnered mixed reaction from those watching at home. It doesn’t always match up with the action on the field, and knowing that the noise is being added gives a sort of cheap feel to the audio.
With the NBA likely returning sometime in the near future, Stevens would like to have the league roll with the natural noises of basketball when games air on TV. That would give fans a chance to listen in to all the different interactions that play out on the floor throughout game, which are usually drowned out by all the cheering from the stands.
What did Jayson Tatum scream as he soared in for a thunderous dunk. What was that playful jabbing between Kemba Walker and his counterpart on the other team? Was that really Stevens cussing out an official? And what was Marcus Smart’s beef this time?
Fans could get answers to all of those questions and more if the league lets the games provide their own soundtrack.
“I’ve given a lot of thought to all of this stuff — I’ve been sitting in my house for three months so I’ve thought about this stuff over and over,” Stevens said on a video conference call on Tuesday. “The sound will be great for TV; I think people want to hear more of coaches, players, referees and the dialogue between everybody. If we do get in that scenario, I’m interested to see what the league would decide with pumping in noise or not. The voices of the game would be a whole new world and a lot of fun.
“It would be most impactful in what these guys do from possession to possession and how much communication goes into it,” Stevens added.
That may be a little dangerous in the NBA, with the chatter occasionally drifting to the R-rated variety. And by occasionally we mean every other possession, if not more, depending on the teams in question. But having “hot mics” everywhere would certainly add to the entertainment value of NBA games, not to mention all the new jobs created for broadcasting partners, since they’d have to hire a bunch of folks to push those audio dump buttons.
While there has been a lot of speculation about an NBA return in recent weeks, including the possibility of playing all games at a single site like Disney World, there has been no official word from the league. Stevens said that he knows as much as fans and the media know in regards to a comeback, so he’s eagerly awaiting word just like everyone else.
Playing at a single site would certainly have its benefits amid the coronavirus pandemic, but it would also have a lot of disadvantages as well. Mainly, Stevens and players alike aren’t too fond of the idea of having to potentially leave their families for an extended period of time.
“There feels like there is probably a lot of stuff left to cover from a basis standpoint,” he said of the potential of playing at Disney. “It makes sense isolating everyone and ultimately trying to make it an environment that has as less infection as possible, but I think there are still a lot of T’s to cross and I’s to dot, and the powers that be are working on that.
“First and foremost, the way I look at it from a personal standpoint is simply family. I know that question is being asked about with the league, and they have a great responsibility in making sure it’s a safe environment. As a person who absolutely loves being around his wife and kids every day, the length in time is certainly a factor,” he added.
Stevens continues to have frequent virtual meetings with his players, and said they’re all hard at work staying ready for a potential return. The conversations have veered away from basketball over the last few weeks, but Stevens is confident everyone will be ready to go when play does resume.
“When we have focused on basketball, it’s focused on the concept of staying a week away from being in your best shape. We’re all on-call,” he said.