During the Memphis Grizzlies “home game” against the Oklahoma City Thunder, I had the unique and lucky opportunity to be a virtual fan. Around 625 invites were sent out for the game but it was first come first serve as only around half would get actual “seats” for the game.
Tip off was at 3:00 PM CT and I was in Jackson, MS, an hour away from my house that morning for my wife’s 38 week check up for our soon to be born future Grizz fan. She claims I was more excited about being a virtual fan than the possible sonogram we were getting that morning — I was pretty visibly stoked.
The original plan for our day was to eat Buffalo Wild Wings for lunch then head home for tip off as I was on duty to live tweet the game for Grizzly Bear Blues. I changed those plans without hesitation and we arrived back home around 2 hours before tip off. I immediately went to my computer.
After going through the login process, I was the first in the lobby. Due to my excitement coupled with impatience, I earned myself a “front row seat” behind the Memphis Grizzlies bench.
I also had the privilege of being seated next to Grizz hype man Brandon Johnson, whose job was the same as any home game — hype up the “virtual crowd.” The 30+ fans in our section were called upon to be loud as if we were in the stadium and also attempt to distract the opponents while shooting free throws on our end.
For the first time since December 23, 2019 against the San Antonio Spurs, I got to watch a game while interacting with other fans. While in the viewing room, your computer screen was filled with a live feed of the game, which was 45 seconds ahead of the TV broadcast. You could hear the game, as well as the other fans on every play, just as if you were in a section at FedExForum.
From hearing collective boo’s when Chris Paul was introduced and anytime the referee blew the whistle against the Grizz to elation brought by the dominant play for the final three quarters of the game, the virtual fan experience brought a small taste of normalcy back to a year that has been anything but normal.
There is something about rooting for your team with a passionate like-minded community. There is something about not being alone in screaming and yelling at the ups and the downs. 2020 has robbed us of so much, so this little taste of normal was a boost of morale coupled with a Grizz win.
So thank you NBA for leading the way in innovation and even combatting this virus and giving a little bit of hope and joy to fans around the globe.