As second half begins, Bulls remember those no longer allowed at UC
When the Bulls get started again for the second half of the season, it will be the anniversary of the night everything got shut down.
Billy Donovan was there, coaching the Oklahoma City Thunder, on the night of March 11, 2020, when a game between the Thunder and Utah Jazz was postponed just before tipoff due to a positive COVID-19 test by Jazz center Rudy Gobert.
At the time, literally no one knew what was in store.
"I just said to the guys (that night), 'Listen, we'll get up and down tomorrow in practice. We'll scrimmage. We'll use that time,' " Donovan said. "I never saw our guys again until July 8. And that was when we all got on a plane and went to Orlando (for the bubble). So there was a lot we didn't know and certainly I didn't know a lot either."
The Bulls had flown to Orlando March 11, 2020, returned home the next day and didn't play another game for nine months.
It was mostly business as usual when the Bulls beat Cleveland March 10 at the United Center. The one major difference was the locker rooms were closed and all interviews were done at a podium.
Ever since then, interviews have been conducted via Zoom call. And the Bulls have now gone a full year without playing in front of any fans in Chicago. Some NBA teams are hosting a limited number of fans, so the Bulls have had people in the seats sometimes on the road this season.
"It's been a long, I don't want to say journey, but it's a lot of working parts the NBA and the city put together to make things safe," Zach LaVine said. "It's been tough. Obviously, when you get into the game, you just play as competitors. You don't notice (the absence of fans).
"It's a breath of fresh air a little bit when you see some fans in the stadium. You almost forget what you had with fans there. It brings a different energy. You play in places, like even (last week in New Orleans), having a select amount of people there -- 2,000, 3,000 people -- it's a different type of energy. You take it for granted, man. We need the fans. We love them. We obviously just want everybody to be safe."
The Cubs and White Sox have announced plans to host a limited number of fans when baseball season begins next month. But those are outdoor venues. So far, there hasn't been any indication of when the Bulls or Blackhawks might have some fans at the United Center. Maybe it will happen before the end of this season, but who knows?
"The last year has been really crazy, and I think the NBA has done as good a job as you possibly could do just to get us back to playing," Donovan said. "Hopefully sooner than later we can get back to some normalcy."
The Bulls will open the second half of the season with five straight home games, beginning with Philadelphia Thursday and Miami Friday.
Sixers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons will both reportedly miss Thursday's game against the Bulls. Both players were late scratches from Sunday's All-Star Game due to contact tracing. Embiid scored 50 points the last time these teams met Feb. 19.
Meanwhile, Lauri Markkanen (shoulder) and Otto Porter (back) both said Wednesday night they are planning to play Thursday night. Markkanen missed the last 13 games before the break, while Porter has missed 15 games.
LaVine and Coby White are the only Bulls who played in all 34 games during the first half of the season. Rookie Patrick Williams and veteran guard Garrett Temple appeared in 33 games.