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SB Nation Reacts: How has COVID impacted fans’ viewing habits?

New York Knicks v Houston Rockets Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The NBA is still dealing with the effects of the coronavirus, with games being postponed and dozens of replacement players being called upon to keep the season afloat. The NBA and NBAPA have agreed on new protocols, which should allow players to return earlier if they are asymptomatic or recover quickly.

To date, 11 games have been postponed and have been rescheduled. With the new protocols, it appears the NBA would like the rest of the season to finish on time. As always, we wanted to know what NBA fans thought.

It’s clear that fans have noticed the decreased quality of play since the omicron variant started placing more and more players into the health and safety protocols. Stars players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, and Kevin Durant have missed several games due to positive tests. For many fans, star players are the biggest reason they are loyal to a team. A large percentage of fans pay money for tickets to watch their favorite players. Spending hundreds of dollars on tickets only to find out that Joel Embiid won’t be playing must be devastating. It’s even worse for fans who live out of market who might only have that player come through their area once a year.

Television has been impacted as well. Fans may see a juicy matchup (say, Warriors vs. Jazz) only to find out that both teams are missing key pieces. Instead of seeing teams as close to 100% as possible, you’re stuck watching long stretches involving players you have never heard of until that night. That can be difficult to watch. And yet...

It seems that a majority of NBA fans are still watching as many games as usual. The replacement players can be seen as a positive, as they introduce new stories for commentators to relay to fans. Hearing about players who have toiled overseas, in the G-League, or were retired adds an extra layer of investment. Watching these players take advantage of their opportunities can be incredibly uplifting for fans.

Furthermore, it’s not like The Replacements where the entire team is new. Every team has been able to field at least a handful of regulars each night, which allows fans to still make out the outline of the squad they are used to seeing. For fans that are more interested in the team as a whole than the individuals, these games are just a chance to see back-end roster players prove themselves. Still, some people just want to see the superstars.

The Brooklyn Nets were hit hard by the recent wave of positive tests just like everyone else. However, the Nets had a superstar waiting in the wings behind a “Break in case of emergency” glass. Kyrie Irving cannot play home games for the Nets so the team refused to allow him to practice or play, but the team was desperate enough to bring him out of his self-induced exile and play as a part-time player for the rest of the season. The hope for them is that eventually New York City will scale back their mandates so Irving can return to being a full-time employee.

Irving is a polarizing figure. Some see him as brave for standing up for his beliefs while others see him as a crackpot. I think you can appreciate someone for sticking to their ideals but still think those ideals are stupid. Irving has never really explained his side in a coherent way, instead hopping on Instagram Live to rant about how unjust the situation has been. Using the poll above, most fans think the Nets should have stuck to their original stance and kept Kyrie on ice.

Eventually, the Nets relented and here we are. Brooklyn is already a magnet for eyeballs because of their abundance of talent. Now, they’re going to get more attention as teams watch Irving play road games and sit out home contests. It’s going to be fascinating to see how that plays out.

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