LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Bubble reporters received our first in-person look inside one of the arenas that will be used for the 2019-20 NBA restart’s scrimmages, seeding games and playoffs.



a man riding a skateboard up the side of a ramp: Plexiglass protects the scorers table and the chairs in the team bench areas are spread a few feet apart at "The Arena" on the ESPN Wide World of Sports campus. Reporters, including Mavericks beat writer Brad Townsend, were given a preview of the facility.


© Brad Townsend/Staff/The Dallas Morning News/TNS
Plexiglass protects the scorers table and the chairs in the team bench areas are spread a few feet apart at “The Arena” on the ESPN Wide World of Sports campus. Reporters, including Mavericks beat writer Brad Townsend, were given a preview of the facility.

About 20 print and broadcast journalists received a tour Tuesday of what is called The Arena, one of three on the ESPN Wide World of Sports campus that will be used here during the next three-plus months.

No on-the-record quotes or factoids were provided, but our eyes and ears took in plenty. Also, fortunately, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle had given a scouting report of a tour he took early in the week with Mavericks center Dwight Powell and Thunder guard Chris Paul.



Reporters, including Mavericks beat writer Brad Townsend, were given a tour of "The Arena" on the ESPN Wide World of Sports campus. Teams will also play at the Visa Center and HP Field House. Each court is set up in similar fashion.


© Brad Townsend/Staff/The Dallas Morning News/TNS
Reporters, including Mavericks beat writer Brad Townsend, were given a tour of “The Arena” on the ESPN Wide World of Sports campus. Teams will also play at the Visa Center and HP Field House. Each court is set up in similar fashion.

“This is like next-level, unbelievable stuff,” Carlisle gushed.

He didn’t overhype it. The set-up is, in fact, compelling. No, the games won’t have fans, but the setting is a blend of technological eye candy and coronavirus-proofing. It’s cozy, but not at all high school-gym-like.

Although the three venues — Visa Center and HP Field House are the others — differ in size, the main courts are set up the same.

As previously advertised, perhaps the most striking image is “Black Lives Matter” in black lettering on one side of the court, on the opposite side of the court from the benches and scorers’ table.

Speaking of the scorers’ and statisticians’ tables, which are three rows deep, plexiglass separates them from the court as well as the player bench areas on each side. The benches are actually folding chairs spaced about two feet apart, with two additional rows behind, on risers.

The bench chairs we saw were standard-variety with little padding, comfortable enough for Average-Joe cafeteria or picnic dining, but perhaps not for 6-9 sweating athletes for parts of two-plus hours.

The arena scoreboards, shot clocks, bright signage (#WholeNewGame) and logos of all 22 bubble teams are visually pleasing, but the NBA apparently left the feature technology out of its show and tell for reporters.

Carlisle, Powell and Paul, of course, were shown the full experience, with NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum serving as tour guide.

“We saw the digital boards in their full operation mode,” Carlisle said. “There’s going to be pictures of actual fans on the digital board, so it will look, in effect, like there are people in the arena.

“Those faces in actuality are people sitting in front of the computerboard watching the game being streamed on the computer. Their faces are on the digital board.”

Hmm. No, we didn’t see any of that Tuesday. Here is what the NBA was able to share with us following Tuesday’s tour: While fans won’t be physically present at games in Orlando, the NBA plans to deepen the communal connection of sports with a more networked and immersive experience.

Working with the league’s broadcast partners, the NBA will introduce never-before-seen camera angles and enhanced audio of players and coaches.

Perhaps we and the rest of world will get a better preview when scrimmages start on Thursday. The NBA has said scrimmages will be dry runs of sorts, not just for the players and coaches but for game operations for the rest of the season restart.

The Mavericks’ first scrimmage will be on Thursday against the Lakers at the Visa Center, a game that will be broadcast on NBA, and on ESPN Radio in Dallas, and streamed on Mavs.com.

The ambience certainly will be abnormal, like everything else about life in the bubble, but also intriguing.

“The situation is different, but everything else, basketball, is the same,” Mavericks center Boban Marjanovic said. “Teammates are the same. Nothing has changed. It’s just that we don’t have fans … but I know they’re cheering for us over the TV.”

Carlisle provided one other teaser from his tour.

“My understanding is they have ways to affect the amount of noise being made in terms of cheering and stuff like that,” he said.

Yes, there have been rumors that artificial crowd noise will be piped in.

Not long after our reporter group assembled near center court Tuesday, sounds of fans calling out “Defense, defense!” were played on the soundsystem.

We’re pretty sure technicians were just doing some sound testing, but it’s also true that the NBA was in fact coyly playing information keep-away.

Find more Mavericks stories from The Dallas Morning News here.

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