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Warriors fans prepare for ‘bizarre’ home game with empty arena

A bird’s-eye view of Chase Center during the season-opening game between the Warriors and Clippers on Oct. 24, 2019.
A bird’s-eye view of Chase Center during the season-opening game between the Warriors and Clippers on Oct. 24, 2019.
(Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

Every day, Lloyd Canamore slips two replica rings from the Golden State Warriors’ recent dynasty onto his fingers. He wears four when he goes to church.

Canamore, 57, became hooked on Warriors basketball as a 16-year-old selling hot dogs and peanuts at games inside Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, where he played pickup games against ushers and fellow vendors long after the final buzzer sounded. Canamore’s Oakland house is even painted in the team’s colors — blue with white and yellow trim.

Few Warriors fans go to Canamore’s lengths to express their support. But in the Bay Area, where Golden State is still in the afterglow of a dynastic, five-year run that saw the team earn three NBA championships, his passion is no outlier. It’s why, he said, Thursday’s home game at Chase Center against Brooklyn will feel bizarre.

The support that made the team’s former home in Oakland one of the league’s loudest venues will be replaced by silence.

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Following an order from the San Francisco Health Office prohibiting events with 1,000 or more people, as a response to the spread of the coronavirus throughout the region, the Warriors on Wednesday announced that Thursday’s matchup against the Nets will be played but without spectators in the 18,064-seat arena.

It will be the first NBA game to be played without spectators, but is not expected to be the last as the NBA held a conference call Wednesday with its Board of Governors to discuss next steps to avoid the spread of the virus, which has led sports leagues across the world to cancel major events or play behind closed doors.

“We don’t know who can come to the stadium with the virus, so they have to do what they have to do,” Canamore said.

Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who missed the last two games with the flu after sitting out most of the season with a broken hand, is expected to play Thursday.

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“I don’t know how [players] are going to be motivated,” Canamore said. “It’s going to be tough on them. It’s going to be tough on us but tough on them. It’ll be like a cemetery or something. Devastating.”

On Tuesday night, Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard likened the prospect of playing in front of empty seats to practicing during a closed scrimmage.

“I expect it to just be almost like a practice in a way,” said Vivek Sridharan, a season-ticket holder since 2004. “I know the Nets are kind of fighting for a playoff spot but it’s two teams that aren’t really going anywhere this year. It’s human nature, they’re naturally going to have fun with it and not really take it too seriously. I don’t expect it to be a hyper-competitive game.”

Rick Welts, the Warriors’ president and chief operating officer, told reporters Wednesday that the game will lead to a “multi-million dollar loss.” Team and league officials are scrambling to understand the financial fallout should more games be played in front of empty arenas, as the league is considering. Player compensation will be affected in the future because basketball-related income drives the NBA’s salary cap. Those hit hardest, Welts added, will be the 1,500 part-time employees who work home games.

“We do have a number of people who live paycheck to paycheck who will be impacted,” Welts said.

The Warriors announced a sold-out crowd during Tuesday’s loss to the Clippers but empty black seats pocketed Chase Center. One fan who stayed home was Sridharan, whose three tickets in section 108 cost an average of $270 per ticket.

“I emailed [a team ticket representative] and said we’re being told by all medical experts just to stay away from things like this, but we have tickets that we’ve already spent money on,” he said.

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The team representative responded that it would credit the cost of Tuesday’s tickets toward the purchase of season tickets in 2020-21, he said. Sridharan respected the response, while adding that he was told, “we don’t know what we’re doing for future games.”

Canamore will watch Thursday’s game from his Oakland house, his fandom unaffected.

“Me and my dogs, we’ll be high-fiving,” he said.


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