Clippers experience a first in Utah: Fans in the stands

Small groups of Utah Jazz fans surrounded by empty seats watch a game against the Phoenix Suns on Thursday in Salt Lake City.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

From their poor shooting to their slow start in each half, the Clippers’ loss Friday in Utah was notable for all that was missing.

Yet the box score from Salt Lake City’s Vivint Arena was even more unusual because of what did show up — an attendance of 1,932.

The crowd was the first the Clippers had played in front of since March 10, the day before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the NBA and led the league to resume its season in a fan-free “bubble” in Florida. Though six of the NBA’s 30 teams have hosted reduced numbers of fans, ranging from 300 in Cleveland to 3,800 in the temporary Tampa, Fla., home of the Toronto Raptors, the Clippers had played in empty arenas until their ninth game this season, including the preseason.


“It’s so much better with the fans,” Clippers center Ivica Zubac said. “It’s been a while since we were playing a game in front of any fans, so it definitely felt different. After all that time, you can feel the impact the fans got on the game.”

Utah coach Quin Snyder downplayed that impact before tipoff, saying that during the team’s two previous home games, he had noticed fans’ presence more during warmups than the game.

“You don’t have the same advantage from having a packed house that you do having 1,000 or 1,500 in the gym,” Snyder said.

The Clippers struggled mightily with shots from the paint during their 106-100 loss to the Utah Jazz on Friday. Here are five takeaways from the game.

Jan. 2, 2021

But Zubac called fans’
presence an obvious home-court advantage.

“Definitely now, when no one’s got any fans,” he said.

Both the Lakers and Clippers are among the majority of NBA teams that have opted so far to stage games inside a cavernous, empty home arena, and there is no indication Staples Center will host fans anytime soon given the dire public health situation facing L.A. County, where the availability of intensive-care beds has dwindled amid a holiday surge. While the Clippers were in Utah, L.A. County confirmed 19,000 new cases Friday and 193 deaths tied to COVID-19.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver told players last spring that 40% of the league’s revenues stem from having fans in arenas on game nights, according to reports at the time. Last month, Silver said the league is hopeful attendance will increase as the season continues and vaccine distribution grows wider across the country.

“It may be that once some teams do it and it’s demonstrated it can be done in a safe way for all the participants, it will cause some public health officials to maybe rethink, sort of, the rules in place in their markets,” Silver said Dec. 21. “And even some teams that currently could allow fans but at least haven’t decided to do so yet might also be more open to bringing some fans into their buildings.”


The decision to give teams the authority whether or not to host indoor crowds is “a recognition by the league office that one-size-fits-all solutions don’t necessarily make sense given the varied conditions across the country,” Silver said. “At least for now, we’re satisfied that these decisions are best made market by market in conjunction with local health authorities that at least ultimately have to sign off on allowing fans into arenas.”

Though NBA road trips have always differed by city, the discrepancies in local and state health regulations plus league protocols have added a new wrinkle.

Dec. 31, 2020

In Salt Lake City, certain sections of seats were roped off to create distance between fans. Masks were also required, though fans who attended the Dec. 26 home opener against Minnesota were seen eating and drinking in their seats.

Clippers star Kawhi Leonard called himself “happy” for the fans able to watch live.

“I thought both sides fed off the energy in there,” Clippers forward Paul George said. “It was great just to see that and be in that environment, it’s definitely missed and shout out to Utah for being there and allowing us to put on a great show tonight.”



When: 5 p.m. Sunday

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Update: The Suns (5-1) are coming off consecutive road wins in Utah and Denver behind the third-best defensive rating in the NBA. Only New York has held opponents to a lower three-point shooting percentage this season than the 27.9% allowed by the Suns. In the same category the Clippers’ defense, meanwhile, ranks fourth-best. Phoenix’s backcourt duo of Devin Booker and Chris Paul has combined to average 31.8 points and 13.4 assists this season.