The easyCredit BBL Final Tournament 2020 has drawn loads of attention around the world as the first basketball league since the Covid-19 outbreak to return to action. Of course, to keep from spreading the virus, the event must take place without fans. And while the absence of screaming fans is initially an oddity for the players at the Audi Dome in Munich, most of them say they blend it all out pretty quickly and it’s not a big deal.

Those were the prevailing opinions of players from the 10 teams taking part in the season-ending tourney. Some say they remember empty gyms from their not-so-distant days of playing youth hoops in Germany while others say it’s like pre-season games, which often are even played behind closed doors.

“It was strange in warm-ups without spectators. But during the game you just blend it out,” HAKRO Merlins Crailsheim’s wing Maurice Stuckey said. “You do perceive things during games when fans are there. You soak up the atmosphere, but you are in such a tunnel and so fixated that you just blend them out. It’s still strange, but it’s okay.”

Brose Bamberg youngster Nelson Weidemann said the atmosphere was strange, but also something he has experienced.

“Warm-ups are, what can I say, a little quiet. It’s a little strange. You have to get used to it,” the 21-year-old said. “For me personally, it’s not that unusual because my junior days aren’t that long ago and some games were played in empty gyms. But with this constellation and this level of players, it’s unusual, unique.”

German basketball has averaged at least 84 percent capacity during the regular season since 2013-14 with that number up to 89.5 percent capacity for the 2019-20 campaign before it was postponed due to Covid-19. German teams were averaging 4,200 spectators a game with 11 of the 17 clubs packing their gyms with at least 90 percent capacity – up from 10 of 18 clubs in 2018-19 after the five seasons between 2013-14 and 2017-18 had either seven or eight teams with at least 90 percent capacity.

Part of that support is also encouragement and elation of a spectacular move. And FRAPORT SKYLINERS forward Richard Freudenberg was missing that in Munich after a big dunk.

“Our fans hopefully would have gone crazy and would have given us a push. It’s a strange situation, especially after such a play. You are emotional as well and scream. Usually you don’t hear it so well. But now you hear everything every player says on the court. Some times that’s good, some times bad. But it’s definitely unreal.”

Instead of the fans, the teams themselves are called upon to pump up their teammates.

“We have to create more energy within the team. It’s a little strange when you play in your own stadium and you don’t have your fans,” said Danilo Barthel, the captain of the host team FC Bayern Munich.

Jamal Nixon may be new to MHP RIESEN Ludwigsburg for the tournament but he has played in Germany for years. And he misses the fans – especially the drums.

“It’s a lot different. You see that so many games in Germany are sold out. You always hear the drums. It’s a really good atmosphere but now with no fans it’s really important that as a team you really bring the energy for each other,” Nixon said.

“At the beginning it’s a little bit unusual, for sure. You miss the atmosphere of the fans, if you are home or away,” said ratiopharm ulm’s German international guard Andi Obst.

Aito Garcias Reneses, head coach of ALBA BERLIN, said his players miss the fans more than he does – even if those fans are not for you when you are the road team.

“It’s very important for my team to play at home or on the road. It’s better for the players with the fans. For me, I’m concentrated on our play and team, and it’s not a big difference,” Aito said. “But it’s not a very good experience. The fans in Germany are very good and support their team.”

Before Berlin’s first game, Aito said he will try to be calm.

“It’s true, this is the first time. I hope that it doesn’t happen again,” he said with a smile.

Teams are allowed to have up to four “passive” fans in the stands – as here: easyCredit BBL CEO Stefan Holz, Bavarian interior minister Joachim Herrmann and Bayern honorary president Uli Hoeness.

Aito’s young point guard Jonas Mattisseck meanwhile said he and the teams are trying to get used to it – but hopefully not for too long.

“It was very strange. It’s new. You have to get used to it. You don’t want to get used to it because you don’t want things to stay like this. It shouldn’t stay like this. But for the time being, it’s like a new everyday life. If you know that the fans are at home watching then you can accept it better,” Mattisseck said.

ratiopharm ulm has been one of the surprises of the tournament thus far, starting off the tournament with an upset over host team FC Bayern Munich. Ulm head coach Jaka Lakovic believes a part of the reason his team won the game is actually indirectly because of the lack of fans.

“It’s a strange feeling. But the situation is the same for everybody. For sure during the game there can be more clear communication with the team. And that helps a little bit,” Lakovic said.

Thomas Klepeisz, who joined Ulm for the tournament, agreed with his coach’s sentiment.

“Strange. I miss the fans for sure because they give us a lot of energy during the games. But this way, you hear your teammates a lot better, which is also kind of cool, when you hear how they celebrate you hitting a shot. You communicate easier on the court. That also helps maybe. But the energy you get from the fans, especially the hardcore fans, is certainly something you really miss and it’s too bad we cant have it,” Klepeisz said.

While Weidemann remembers games without fans from his youth days, Ludwigsburg head coach John Patrick recalled both a trip to Asia and also said it reminds him of the pre-season.

“We also had tournaments in Asia – in Kuala Lumpur and Taiwan without fans – also where we were not allowed to leave the hotel because of security reasons. I have to say, it was like a pre-season game. Also because we play closed games in the pre-season,” the coach said.

But any way you look at it, playing without fans is something that is necessary at the time.


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