Attending an NBA basketball game is unlike any other major sporting experience.
With 20,000 fans packed into a big, but small arena (compared to other venues, like stadiums), the people are right on top of you, to the right and left of you, and it sometimes may even feel that they are below you if you let them get into your head.
The proximity of an NBA court is 94 feet in length and 50 feet in width. The fans who are sitting in the front rows are separated by the players by only 12 feet, which means that they are basically right next to the players when they are inbounding the ball.
These peculiar dimensions all an NBA arena to be a visceral noise box which can benefit the home team and rattle the bones of the road team. The collective voices of 20,000 screaming fans, who when you look up seem like they are right above you, are more than enough to distract players from performing their best because they can completely take over a game.
Let’s take Oracle Arena, home of the Golden State Warriors, for an example.
Mont Strong, an audiologist who attended Game Three of the Warriors 2015 Finals series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, estimated that the decibel levels on Oracle Arena that night ranged from 100-120 which he stated is like listening to a chainsaw or the engines of a jet plane. Noise levels reach that great of height because an NBA arena is enclosed, so there’s nowhere for all of that noise to go but to circulate around the oval arena.
You have to also combine this with the fact that again, with 20,000 people plus in a relatively small space, the fans are within arm length of the players depending on where you sit around the court. This close proximity has caused some not-so-rare tension between the players and the consumers.
Last Wednesday evening, The Philadelphia 76ers opened their season against the Oklahoma City Thunder amidst a sold-out Wells Fargo Center. When Russell Westbrook converted an and-one lay-up, in his usual fashion, he faced the crowd and showed a lot of emotion. This prompted one Sixers fan, caught on live television, to put his two middle fingers in the air and yell out an expletive to the Thunder guard which caused Westbrook to respond to the referee and the fan was kicked out of the game.
The reason this was a problem is because these fans are so close to you that you can hear everything they say and see everything they do. In the competitive emotions of a game, that can cause the two forces to clash, sometimes in a friendly way, but also in a violent way.
We all remember the infamous “Malice at the Palace” game on November 19, 2004 that occurred between the Indiana Pacers and defending champion Detroit Pistons. With less than a minute left in a game Indiana had complete control of, players began to fight on the court. After the fight was broken up, a fan threw a beverage onto the floor that hit Pacer’s Forward Ron Artest while he was lying on the scorer’s table. This prompted Artest to sprint up the stands, identify who he thought was the culprit and begin to fight the fan, which prompted other players to get involved.
These are the kinds of moments that can occur in the heat of a game because of how close and intimate the fans are with the players, but these moments are rare. Usually, the fan-player experience is something the players look forward to because it’s friendly.
Many players love coming to Los Angeles to play because of the celebrity factor at the games. With celebrities like Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington, and whoever else may be in L.A. at the time sitting in the front rows, players enjoy playing and interacting in front of some of their favorite celebrities, and it makes the game a true experience. Kobe Bryant played his last game on April 13 amidst the likes of Jay Z, Kanye West, Jack Nicholson, Snoop Dogg, David Beckham, and Adam Levine, which I’m sure was a thrill for all involved.
Bottom line, an NBA game is one of the best tickets in town because it’s one of the only sports where you can actually touch and talk to your favorite athletes. This intimate experience and relationship between the players and the fans has its pros and cons, but the experience is something you will never forget.
How do you feel about the fans being so close to the players in an NBA arena? Let’s talk about it here or find me on Twitter @Phenombc3.