Sean Grande peers out from a nest while calling Celtics games, where he’s scanning three screens (computer, stats, televised game feed) and a spread of open ledgers and more stats.
Beyond the game and his resource materials, Grande also remains active on Twitter, posting numbers from his own records. He also once peppered his Celtics duties with NCAA hockey and MMA gigs.
And now, like anyone else sidelined by the suspension of the sports world, Grande and partner Cedric Maxwell are home-bound. On March 25 they began calling simulations of the Celtics’ remaining games on CLNS Media. That night, with the game fleshed out by a call of imaginary action, last-minute steals by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown preserved a 110-107 win in Memphis.
A basketball-starved public wants more, and will get it. Grande and Maxwell, with remote-man-about-town Kendrick Perkins offering analysis from his home in Texas, will give this treatment to every game left on the regular season schedule.
And by the time they create one final call for a season-ending “home game” against Chicago on April 15, they may need a playoff script, ad infinitum.
The change of pace imposed on society from COVID-19 has hit Grande as radically as anyone else attached to the NBA.
“It’s a complete sea change,” Grande said last week. “I’m not the only one who’s obsessive about his or her work or his or her schedule. One thing I think that’s good that will come out of this is that it’s aversion therapy for us who are obsessed with our schedule and doing things a certain way.
“Pulling us out of that will teach us new ways to do things, new ways to approach our lives, new ways to do our work,” he said. “You’ll have much greater appreciation for a Tuesday night game against Charlotte than we did before. That’s obvious. But there’s a real learning opportunity here for all of us for how we go about things, and how much toilet paper we need in the house. That’s something everybody needs to learn.”
And when the NBA comes back, be it with the playoffs on Labor Day, or by making a splash with the 2020-21 season opener on Christmas Day, and then keeping it that way, a new way of viewing the league will probably be in order.
“Things we never thought about. Two weeks ago the notion of starting the season on Christmas and ending with the Finals in August — there was literally 0.0% discussion about it,” said Grande.
And in the short term, there’s a strong chance that resumption of the 2019-20 season will be strictly a televised event. Indeed, the league’s marooned fan base has been subsisting on classic sports television and other inventive diversions, like Grande’s simulation. By the time the next game hits prime time, with all fans watching from their living rooms, the demand will be manic.
“In March, that’s where the smart money is,” Grande said of the probability of empty arenas. “You’ll have caution. One of the good stories today is South Korea is going to play in a few weeks. They were ahead of the curve. China with empty arenas. Wrestlemania is going to be in an empty arena.
“Fans are going to be excited. When you get to an NBA playoff game, what percentage of the audience is in the arena anyway?” he said. “Will they miss environment, atmosphere, all of the things we’re used to? No question.
“These are different times. One of the many interesting things about this is what next year is going to look like, and how quickly people were to say, after they said we might have to go to that new schedule next year, wow, this is pretty cool. That’s an example of a company saying we don’t need people at the office, you can work from home.”
The NBA has indeed been the most proactive of the American sports when it comes to adapting to the global pandemic, certainly beating the White House to the punch where taking action was concerned. Adam Silver’s rise as the most inventive commissioner in American sports thus continues.
“We were big fans of Adam before he became commissioner, and he’s literally taking us to a place where we’re going to be asking, who was that guy before Adam Silver?” said Grande. “This is the guy who wanted to put a tournament in the middle of the season. That’s aggressive innovation. You gave the right guy for that. It’s the old thing of evolve or die. You have to keep going.”
And now, due to a pandemic, change is inevitable in some form. The NBA, the most popular American sport internationally, will resume making money once the schedule resumes thanks to TV money.
But the experience will change for the fans, especially in the short term, though there’s no telling what that will look like, according to Grande.
“That’s an impossible question in March because we don’t know what the damage will be,” he said I” remember vividly being in the broadcast meetings in 2008 in late September. Days after after Lehman Brothers and everything happening.
“I remember the doors shutting and David Stern saying restaurants with tablecloths are going to go out of business. It’s about having a long-term strategy. At the time the Celtics didn’t take a hit because they had just come off the championship. We were in our sellout streak at that point. It’s a bad time if you’re a team that’s challenged anyway — it’s the worst possible time if you need casual fans, if you need people to buy tickets to individual games. Everybody is going to be hurt, but we have history as our guide that things will be a little different.
“How many people who went to the office, and are going to spend the next few months working from home, are never going back to the office?”