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Getting loud without a Celtics crowd: The challenges of turning the bubble into TD Garden

There may not be any fans in the stands but teams are doing their best in the bubble to liven up the game experience.Pool/Getty

The Celtics’ cushy 24-point lead against the Blazers had been erased, and Portland was still charging in the fourth quarter. In a back room of a basketball arena on the Disney World campus on Aug. 2, Carley Lenahan, the Celtics’ senior manager of live events, was uneasy.

“I’m looking around like, ‘Normally our fans would pull us through this,’ ” Lenahan said. “ ‘How are we going to make that home-court feel?‘ ”

Lenahan is among the small group of NBA game operations staffers who was brought into the Orlando bubble to assist with the NBA’s restart. She is not there just to assist with Celtics games, but she certainly knows TD Garden’s rhythms better than most. So in this case, she snapped into action.


“I just had to pull everything, from our noise graphics to our pump-up songs,” she said. “The crowd noise, I said, ‘Let’s push it a little more, because in Boston our fans would be going crazy right now.’ I just wanted to make it feel like that home-court advantage.”

It’s unclear whether the onslaught of throbbing sights and sounds made a difference, but the Celtics did reclaim the lead and hang on for a 128-124 win.

Operations crews generally enrich the experience for the thousands in attendance at NBA games. Rarely are there moments without some kind of entertainment, from halftime and timeout acts, to interactive video displays, to prompts about whether this might be the best time of all to start cheering really, really loud.

There's usually a lot going on at TD Garden before a Celtics game.Maddie Meyer/Getty

Now, of course, there are no T-shirt tosses, kiss-cams or mascot dunk contests. Instead, players are performing in relative silence, with referees more likely to hear their hissing.

But game ops crews from around the league are trying their best in these unusual circumstances to recreate home-court magic whenever possible, both for the players and for viewers watching on television.


The general reaction has been mixed. This setting offers a rare opportunity to hear the sounds of the game, so why drown it out with fake noise? But sometimes in basketball those sounds are just grunts, and people want to imagine that they’re back at TD Garden rooting for the Celtics on an early-spring night.

That’s where these crews come in.

“There’s pressure of trying to make it feel as authentic as possible, even though we all know that it’s not real,” Lenahan said. “There are no fans in there. The other thing is making the players feel that arena feel. It’s something you don’t want to screw up.”

In the bubble, the Celtics have been forced to rely on their own bench to generate some intensity.Pool/Getty

Lenahan was joined in Orlando by Celtics senior events producer Steve Gadsden, with senior director Jake Wendling overseeing the operation from Boston.

After the restart was announced, Wendling contacted longtime Garden public-address announcer Eddie Palladino to record fresh starting lineup introductions. He also added a few of his signature calls for things like 3-pointers, overtime, and wrapping up a Celtics win.

The Celtics have two songs played before tipoff: the Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping up to Boston” and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” And they created video montages with familiar Boston scenes.

Gadsden even created a makeshift version of “Gino Time,” the lovable clip played at the end of lopsided Celtics wins in which of a man wearing a Gino shirt gyrates to the Bee Gees during an old “American Bandstand” episode.


“Gino Time” is about as Celtic as it gets, but since game ops crews from other teams are helping run the show in Orlando, Gino also creates some angst. Wendling even sent some local media clips about the history of the now iconic video to crews in Orlando so they understood the significance.

“That’s the one that kind of makes me the most nervous,” Wendling said, “because it’s huge in Boston, and just trying to convey that to the visiting team directors, and how, like, we cannot play that unless the game is completely over. We haven’t been burned yet, and we just want to communicate that.”

There was relief when “Gino Time” rolled at the end of the blowout win over the Nets without a hitch.

The Celtics are one of the few teams that does not typically flood live game action with songs and artificial noise.

“Our team isn’t really used to that,” Gadsden said, “and doesn’t like that.”

So they mostly lean on simpler approaches, like “defense” and “let’s go, Celtics” chants, and let the rowdy crowd carry it from there. The problem now is there are no rowdy crowds to carry it from there.

The Celtics crew provided some of those familiar prompts from actual home games, and the fake crowd noise is operated by crews in the backroom of the arenas. Lenahan has handled sound for a few Celtics “home games,” pumping in varying levels of cheers with the tap of an iPad.

“We have access to cheers, boos, and airballs,” she said. “But we’re supposed to avoid those. We use the cheers if we feel like an extra punch needs to be added.”


Although most of the crowd noise is not actually real, there are crowds. Sort of. During games the video boards display virtual fans, comprised primarily of season-ticket holders and community groups who log onto their computers from home and appear live via video conferencing technology.

Virtual fans have been a big part of the NBA game experience while in the bubble.Pool/Getty

Wendling said the response has been positive, and that thankfully everyone has kept their clothes on during the broadcasts.

“Even for a noon tipoff, we have a full house of virtual fans,” he said.

The irony is that aside from some touches being visible to television viewers, most of these fan enhancements have been created despite the fact that there are no fans there to experience them. But the hope is that the players have taken note, too.

“We’re just trying to do our best to make sure it feels like Boston,” Wendling said.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at Follow him @adamhimmelsbach.