Fans will still fill AmericanAirlines Arena on Wednesday when the Miami Heat hosts the Charlotte Hornets, but there’s at least a possibility it could change as the coronavirus continues to spread across the United States.
Earlier Wednesday, the Golden State Warriors became the first NBA team to announce they’d play without fans in their arena when they host the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday in San Francisco. A few hours later, the NCAA announced it will be banning fans from the NCAA Tournament, which begins Tuesday in Ohio. About another hour later, the NBA board of governors convened for a conference call to discuss potential options for the league.
As of now, reports indicate all manner of options are on the table to curb the spread of the virus within the NBA.
The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association began discussing the matter earlier Wednesday, ESPN reported. They discussed playing games in empty arenas and moving games to parts of the country without outbreaks. The league has even started asking teams about the availability of their arenas through July in preparation for potentially shutting down play for a period of time, The Athletic reported.
The consensus among owners, ESPN reported, was to either continue the season in empty arenas or take some sort of indefinite hiatus. A decision is expected as soon as Thursday and the greater push is to continue this season without fans in the arena.
“This is catching everybody’s attention. I think we just all have to be very prudent right now, very observant,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I don’t sense anybody being cavalier about this in our locker room now. These are very serious matters. The landscape of this is changing very quickly. We just need to be very observant and ready to adjust as necessary. We’re in communication with the league constantly. They’ve been phenomenal about it. We’ll just have to continue to do our job and wait for further notice.”
No league-wide announcement was made Wednesday. The only major change the league has made was to its media policies, indefinitely banning reporters from locker rooms Tuesday.
In a team meeting about two hours before tipoff in Miami, the Heat discussed the increasingly likely possibility of playing games in empty arenas and other potential effects of the virus.
“We’ve been talking about it for sure. I think it would pose a unique challenge,” sharpshooting swingman Duncan Robinson said. “Obviously, we’re all used to playing in front of thousands of people. Particularly in this building, they breathe life into us. It would definitely kind of be eerie at first, but once the game gets going, I imagine it would be the same game. Once you’re out there competing, it would probably be a little bit different, but at the same time, it’s still basketball.”
Robinson, who played in the national championship for the Michigan Wolverines in 2018, also said it will be “tough” to see college athletes miss out on the opportunity to play in front of massive crowds throughout March Madness.
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“That was an incredible basketball experience for myself. It’s something that I hold as one of my most cherished basketball memories,” Robinson said. “I definitely think it will impact the experience for the players, so from that standpoint, it would be tough to see, but at the same time the competitive nature of it I’m sure will still exist. There will still be the same level of school pride, and guys will still go out there and give it their all.”
Tyler Herro returns
Heat rookie guard Tyler Herro is ready to make his return.
Herro, who was listed as questionable, will be available to play Wednesday night against the Hornets at AmericanAirlines Arena after missing the previous 15 games because of right ankle soreness. The 20-year-old went a full practice Tuesday for the first time since the injury.
The Heat will also have Jae Crowder (concussion protocol), Kendrick Nunn (cold), Udonis Haslem (stomach illness) available against the Hornets. Crowder was listed as probable after missing Sunday’s win over the Wizards, and Nunn and Haslem were questionable after missing Tuesday’s practice.
But wing Jimmy Butler will not play Wednesday, as he continues to recover from an injury to his left big toe. He exited Sunday’s victory over the Wizards early because of the injury, and he was also was held out of Tuesday’s practice.
It marks the 11th game Butler, who is averaging a team-high in points and assists, has missed this season. But only five of those games have been because of injury.
Butler missed the first three games of the season while on paternity leave following the birth of his daughter, the fourth game because of an illness, the fifth game because of lower back soreness, the sixth game because of right hip soreness, the seventh and eighth games because of a right shoulder strain, the ninth and 10th games because of personal reasons, and the 11th game because of his current toe injury.
The Heat has posted a 5-5 record over the first 10 games Butler has missed this season.