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Losing Courtside Camaraderie in the Covid Era

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How many of the high-earning courtside patrons, many of them at advanced ages vulnerable to the virus, would eagerly return to a jam-packed environment, where every inch of space has been maximized for profit, all in close indoor proximity to sweaty young athletes?

Would mask requirements and social distancing dilute the frenzy of the dense courtside experience and make it less attractive at the premium price level?

David Carter, a sports business educator at the University of Southern California and consultant with an N.B.A. client, said in a telephone interview: “One year ago, if you were invited to sit courtside, it would be, ‘I can’t wait.’ In the new normal, it may be, ‘Do you not like me?’ I don’t think sitting courtside at Staples Center or the Garden is going to look like it did — and if we do go back, it may not be for a very long time.”

He added, “The second part, of course, is the consumer piece, the business side.”

Wynn Plaut, a financial entrepreneur who underwrote and shared Musler’s seats for several years after she could no longer afford them, said wealthy people and especially corporations may still have interest in what he called “the necessary diversion” of high-end sports.

But affordability is one issue, optics yet another.

“I would be embarrassed to pay that money for a basketball game given what’s going on in the country,” he said. “It would feel unseemly, tone deaf. This is the single-worst event since I’ve been alive — I was born in 1952 — and it’s still unfolding.”

Before reporters were moved upstairs at the Garden to make room for more courtside seats, one of the simple pleasures of covering the N.B.A. was the exposure to fans like Musler, hearing their tales of charmed interaction.

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