Why empty crowds could work to the Portland Trail Blazers’ advantage

CJ McCollum, Lehigh Mountain Hawks (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CJ McCollum, Lehigh Mountain Hawks (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

When the Portland Trail Blazers resume play, there will be empty seats, and potentially simulated crowd noise. Given their players’ history, here’s why it could work to their advantage.

"“28 people. There were 28 people at the game. At the game. Now, I’m going to tell you something. If you don’t think it takes a lot of personal pride to wanna go out there and give your best effort, with 28 people.There were 28 people at the game. At the game. Now, I’m going to tell you something. If you don’t think it takes a lot of personal pride to wanna go out there and give your best effort, with 28 people.”"

That previous sentiment isn’t that of any modern player — it instead comes from Rick Barry, in describing his time with the now-defunct ABA. But come July 31, his quote might not be distinguishable among current-day players when the NBA season returns.

Safety precautions are going to ensure that when the Portland Trail Blazers do return to action for its 8-game schedule, seeing 28 people in the arenas might be considered a … full house? A jam-packed audience?

Per Shams Charania of The Athletic, the NBA is in the process of trying to find ways to alleviate how awkward playing in front of no fans could be by simulating crowd noise from the NBA 2K series. The scene itself could be video game-esque, given the dynamic of a high-stakes battle with very few in attendance.

But if anyone’s prepared for something that degree, would it not be the Portland Trail Blazers?

I can’t speak as if I’ve been there, but if you’ve ever watched a game from CJ McCollum’s playing days at Lehigh University, there might have been something of a game within the game:

More points scored by McCollum? Or more fans in the crowd?

The same goes for Damian Lillard. Once you get past the blistering speed and that same kinetic brilliance he became famous for as a Portland Trail Blazers star, your eyes wander into the crowd, and you see whole rows of seats empty at high school gymnasiums.

McCollum and former Blazer Evan Turner recently had some fun on Twitter looking at some of these clips, where Turner joked that all 43 of the fans in the stands went crazy when McCollum would dunk. And he wasn’t lying, that’s for sure.

And that’s no slight to McCollum or Lillard in any way. As Barry said, that level of mental upbuilding isn’t for everyone. An athlete faint of heart and confidence probably couldn’t go out and convince themselves that they would someday be stars in the NBA given the settings they were rooted from.

But in a winner-take-all tournament, the comfort of knowing they played in front of smaller audiences. There’s no silver spoon and sellout crowds that they’ve been handed.

To a similar degree, there’s a parallel, too, with Hassan Whiteside. Ask the average person where Marshall University is located. The quick answer is “Um,” and what comes next probably won’t be correct either. Before he became a guaranteed double-double, Whiteside was denigrated for “attitude problems,” and was forced to polish himself physically and mentally in the D-League.

Though he played for the 2010-11 Reno Bighorns — known in some circles as the greatest D-League concoction of talent in the history of the organization, the crowds for that game certainly couldn’t have knew it.

The same goes for Jusuf Nurkić during his time in the EuroLeague for the Cedevita Zagreb, or Mario Hezonja in Barcelona.

It felt worth contemplating over. When the NBA season resumes, we as fans likely assume players will be able to return to their normal production, as if any of this is normal.

That feels less and less like a guarantee. Last fall, I wrote a piece about how Shane Larkin’s battle with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and how his mental hurdle with germs proved a challenge for his basketball career. Who’s to say that other players won’t be feeling some form of trepidation, too?

Because players aren’t so forthcoming about fears on that subject, that’s mere speculation. But what we can put into thought is how the Portland Trail Blazers are, on the surface at least, built for something like this mentally.

Who makes the Blazers' starting lineup in a play-in tourney?. dark. Next

In a league where just about every NBA star comes up through endorsements and top-dog colleges, the Blazers are a bit different. So when the lights come on and no fans are present, there’s a chance a few of Portland’s top stars are as close to home as home as can be.