Opening night of the regular season came and went with Kevin Durant in rare-form and the Clippers winning the first round against the Lakers. Day two saw more action as the remainder of teams hit the floor, and Christmas promises an exciting NBA slate.
There’s one thing absent this year. The fans.
Currently, six teams allow limited spectators, following the guidelines set forth by local official’s health and safety protocols.
For David Delooper, aka the "The Jumbotron Guy," who made it on 30 jumbotrons in 30 games in 30 days in January, 2020, saw first hand not only the differences in NBA fan bases across the nation, but also how they impact the game itself.
"There’s something about when somebody gets on the jumbotron and they start dancing," he said. "The whole atmosphere of the arena can positively change. The team could be losing by 40 points and you get that security guard, that one mom, that one child to start dancing, the whole crowd goes crazy."
"That’s what I wanted to do."
Delooper, 29, wasn't always a huge basketball fan, as he favored the pitch, playing collegiate soccer at the College of New Jersey. But growing up in Jersey, he watched Knicks' games with his father during the heyday with Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston.
Once he graduated from college, he started playing pickup basketball with friends – from there, a passion for hoops was ignited.
"When you start to play basketball, you start to talk to basketball, when you start to talk about basketball, you start to watch basketball, and that’s how I fell in love with the NBA."
As Delooper's love grew, so did a crazy idea based on his desire to visit every NBA arena, not only for himself, but other fans in the stands.
"I knew it was a far fetched dream, but something that I had to try because I felt it could make people smile, it could inspire someone, and ultimately, I thought it would just be fun."
The dream became a reality after Delooper found out that Red Bull, where he works as a senior communications manager, supported his journey, giving him 30 days leave.
Delooper even convinced a friend to come along for the ride, 32-year-old freelance photographer and filmmaker, Colin Kerrigan, who helped document the journey.
Finally, Delooper's years of planning were finally going to pay off.
"This I had been thinking about for two to three years, so I saved up for a really long time. And then, I was as frugal as possible, I booked flights about six months in advance. We stayed with
some friends, some family, with my friends' parents when my friend wasn't even there. We used our network."
Delooper used a chart to map and schedule everything out, and when it came to food, Delooper became very familiar with fast food restaurants and gas station snacks – but even then, he found little things to enjoy.
"Food was tough. It was a lot of McDonalds, they have great dollar coffees."
As his journey continued, his story gained traction – then, he broke Reddit. The first thing he learned was how many strangers supported his quest.
"When I started trending a little bit on Reddit, people would reach out to help, which was amazing. I didn’t know these people, but they just believed in the journey and they were supportive – and for me that was the coolest part."
Delooper had people with season tickets offering up their spot in the arena, or team's camera crews wanting him to reach out when he visited their stadium to make sure he made it on the big screen.
Delooper experienced first hand the close-knit nature of the NBA community.
It wasn't always so easy, as in just the second day of his quest, he almost didn't make it on the jumbotron – it wasn't until the last stoppage period in the fourth quarter that he finally made an appearance.
"I was freaking out. I mean I planned on going to 30 games in 30 days and getting on the jumbotron 30 times, and day two it almost didn’t happen. And it’s funny because my brother and his wife and my nephew came to the game to support me."
It also helped that Delooper donned creative outfits specifically designed to resonate with each city.
"New Orleans I was a crawfish just because of the culture down there. The goal was to try to appeal to the fan base and to get noticed enough that the camera crews would point the camera toward me."
He cited the Pelicans’s game as one of his favorites to attend, as well as his stop at Staples Center, where he was able to watch the Clippers and Lakers play back to back.
"Just seeing how different those atmospheres were, it was incredible. That was awesome just to see how different those two teams were in the same city, in the same stadium, just a few hours apart."
And overall, the differences in fan bases and game environments was his biggest takeaway from the journey.
"Just seeing every city and how they support their NBA team was by far one of the coolest experiences, and something that I’m super grateful for, because I feel like I learned so much about each team and who supports them."
But this year, the differences won’t be so pronounced, as much of it was based on the fan energy in each arena.
"I think it’s all created by the team’s chemistry, and it’s really going to matter this year. The team’s bench are the ones that are the crowd. To me, home in a way, doesn’t mean as much as it used to."
Living in Philly, Delooper experienced the home court advantage first hand, as 76ers fans are known for being loud and proud. Last season, Philadelphia finished their regular home season pre-bubble at 29-2 (.935), and 10-23 (.303) on the road.
It was a startling 63.2% differential, and now, without fans attending games, the in-game environment will drastically shift as teams will need to self motivate.
Who knows what the future will hold for attendance? For now, Delooper is just relishing the journey he had.
"I couldn’t be happier for the timing, I almost pushed it a year, but then I got the time off, and I think about that almost every day."
And he looks back on the journey fondly, even the seemingly most trying of moments.
"It was a grind – our schedule was just dictated by the games. We stopped at a truck stop, and I ended up losing my keys inside the car for about an hour ... We were both freaking out, running late to the game, worried about traffic, weather. The alarm is going off in the car. As I reflect on it, and it just reminds me how things don't go as planned."
In a year like 2020, those are words to live by.