The PGA Championship, MLB regular season, NBA playoffs and Stanley Cup playoffs have all returned with the one thing that was missing in 2020: the fans.
Fans have packed stadiums and arenas over the last few weeks, and some pro athletes have noticed a palpable difference. Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant was among those who noticed the difference the fans made at the Barclays Center during their Game 1 win over the Boston Celtics on Saturday.
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“Our fans were loud. They were there early. They definitely gave us an advantage,” Durant said, via SNY. “It was weird, because we haven’t seen them all season. It was 1,500 there last couple months of the season, but to see people at the front row, and then to see more in the upper and lower bowl, it was pretty cool.”
James Harden also felt the difference.
“The crowd kinda just threw me off a little bit,” he said. “It was pretty loud in there. The vibe was what we’ve been missing. It just threw me off a little bit.”
New York Knicks fans packed Madison Square Garden and the roar of the crowd was felt in Games 1 and 2. After the team’s Game 2 win, fans stormed out of the arena and into the streets.
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In the Stanley Cup playoffs, Carolina Hurricanes fans were seen in unison showering their team with praise. Fans will be in Raleigh, N.C., through the Hurricanes’ run after knocking out the Nashville Predators in the playoffs.
But with the return of fans in the stands comes wild behavior.
In baseball, the return of fans in the stands have been highlighted with a number of fights. Those at Guaranteed Rate Field to watch the Chicago White Sox got into it a few nights in a row.
Los Angeles Dodgers fans have fought opposing fans whether it was at their home stadium or on the road.
San Diego Padres fans have also been in on the fisticuffs.
The most palpable incidents have come in the NBA, where fans have dumped popcorn on players, spit on players and skewered others with racist taunts.
Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young was on the receiving end of some Knicks fans’ hatred. In Game 1, fans were yelling curses at him before he silenced the crowd with a game-winning shot.
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Young was then on the receiving end of more taunts and even got spat on at one point.
The Knicks announced the fan who was found to have spit on Young was banned from Madison Square Garden.
Russell Westbrook was injured during the Washington Wizards’ Game 2 loss against the Philadelphia 76ers, and as he was walking back to the locker room he was hit with popcorn.
The 76ers suspended the fan indefinitely and revoked his season ticket membership.
In Utah, Jazz fans sent racial and explicit taunts to the family of Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant during the team’s Game 2 loss.
The Jazz responded by banning the three fans involved.
LeBron James was among those who condemned the actions of fans and called for the cameras to be on the perpetrator.
The NBA also released a statement on the fan code of conduct.
“The return of NBA fans to our arenas has brought great excitement and energy to the start of the playoffs, but it is critical that we all show respect for players, officials and fellow fans,” the league said in a statement. “An enhanced code of conduct will be vigorously enforced in order to ensure a safe and respectful environment.”
The PGA Championship was also not immune to fan interference.
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Fans packed the gallery at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina and angered Brooks Koepka, who finished tied for second behind Phil Mickelson.
“It would have been cool if I didn’t have a knee injury and got dinged a few times in the knee in that crowd because no one really gave a s–t,” he said. “Yeah, it’s cool for Phil, but getting dinged a few times isn’t exactly my idea of fun. I was trying to protect my knee.”
Fans were also seen rushing Mickelson as he made his march toward the green on 18. Security tried its best to keep the crowd from going over the top.
The PGA offered an apology the next day.
“While we welcome enthusiastic fan engagement, we regret that a moment of high elation and pent-up emotion by spectators on the 18th hole of yesterday’s historic PGA Championship briefly overwhelmed security and made two players and their caddies feel vulnerable,” CEO Seth Waugh said.
“We always put players safety at the top of our list and are grateful that order was restored. I have spoken to both players and apologized on behalf of the Association.”
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Wild fan behavior has reared its head in the past, but a year without fans in arenas and ballparks for most teams may have made people forget what a raucous crowd can bring – the good and the bad.