KB, LaVine talk ‘weird' fan-less games, shutdown experiences

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As the NBA season gets underway, Bulls star Zach LaVine sat down with another prominent Chicago athlete to discuss what it's like playing in fan-less arenas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was miserable,” Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant told LaVine of the 2020 MLB season, in a promotional video sponsored by Red Bull.

Although the conversation was contrived for marketing purposes, Bryant shared some insight into what players experienced this past baseball season.

“Basketball is a little more of an up-tempo sport,” Bryant said. “You’re constantly moving, but baseball, there’s so much downtime. And in that downtime with no fans, it was blown up. It’s just like you look around the stands and there’s nothing. And they’re piping fake crowd noise in.”

"Which is going to be weird," LaVine added.

MLB teams used artificial crowd noise in 2020 to provide a semblance of a normal atmosphere during games. Bryant agreed it was weird but that players got used to it: "You can’t just go out there and just play like a pick-up game. You need a little adrenaline," he said.

NBA games in the Orlando bubble over the summer had virtual fans on video boards placed behind teams’ benches. The Bulls will play home games without fans to start the 2020-21 season, with tarps covering the United Center seats.

LaVine and Bryant also discussed their experiences when sports came to a pause due to the pandemic. After the NBA shut down indefinitely on March 11, the Bulls flew back to Chicago from Orlando, where they were scheduled to play the next day. LaVine, his fiancé and their dog then flew home to Seattle. 

“I wanted to be with my family at least, especially because we didn’t know what was going on, and pretty much just hunkered down there,” LaVine said.

Bryant flew home to Las Vegas after MLB shut down on March 12, where he stayed until the preseason resumed. He was able to see the birth of his first child, Kyler, who was born on April 7 but was expected five days later. 

The Cubs' pre-pandemic schedule had them wrapping up a homestand on April 12 before flying east for a six-game road trip against the Orioles and Nationals.

“There’s a little bit of blessing in disguise, but it was just crazy,” he said. “Absolute craziness.”

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