On the night of the Sixers-Celtics game, my husband Charlie and I downloaded Microsoft Teams to separate laptops, logged in, and watched the game from its digital side with the dozen other people in our section. (They were mostly other reporters.) Charlie left his seat in the front row and reappeared in the fourth row; a minute or two later, Scottie appeared in that seat. Our laptops were open side by side and we were sitting next to each other in real life, but on the screen we were apart. “You just got bounced off by Scottie,” I teased, leaning in to pass him a pizza.
If I leaned forward enough, my head would leave the first row and enter the fourth row. If I pulled out a leg just like that, it looked like Charlie had a leg for an arm! We laughed at my partitioned body, and I tried to subtly adjust my webcam in hopes that Pip might notice the vintage Bulls t-shirt I had worn in his honor.
The cheerful staff members who moderated our section kept their webcams adjusted so that they appeared to be sitting normally in their virtual seats. The rest of us weren’t that hot. Some people sat too far away from their laptop and looked unusually small. Some people got too close to their laptops, giving the impression that they were suffering from some sort of gigantic head syndrome. My husband continued to glue his face into the webcam so that his mustache, newly grown during Covid-19, was very visible on the screen. “Scottie should see my mustache,” he said. I could not disagree with this logic. My general contempt for the concept of virtual fandom wore off, though I still wished I could turn on a filter that made me look like a cartoon animal instead of normal myself. (Not to brag, but it looks like Michelob took at least one advice from me – they filled a whole section of virtual fans with 32 dogs in a recent Spurs-Jazz match. A good start!)
As the match progressed, a well-meaning hype man attempted to elicit friendly jokes from the attendees, but no one seemed interested. We half-heartedly tried virtual high-fives, and most of the time we just kept our mics muted. I held back from yelling “Thanks for your unrivaled gameplay!” at Scottie’s, and his fellow ’90s Bulls icon B.J. Armstrong, who as well sat in our section, but that was greeted with less fanfare. (At one point I started to get a little outraged at Armstrong’s name, because people were definitely more excited to see Scottie. Then I thought, well, that’s good for Scottie d ‘being the big star for once, you know?) I was hoping Michelob’s staff were being paid appropriately. So far, the NBA has avoided any problem with virtual fan behavior – in comparison, WWE had a fan seems promote the Ku Klux Klan during a recent live match – and the staff were diligent moderators.
Together software is designed to record only human faces and bodies, filtering out anything in the background, but it lets animals pass, like someone their goat on screen earlier this month discovered. I put my dog on my lap during the first half, subjecting my Bulls loving family to a series of bragging about how Scottie Pippen and B.J. Armstrong had laid eyes on him. It was fun.