Hawks expect arena to open at 10% fan capacity on MLK Day

January 24, 2020 Atlanta: Morning walkers stroll past State Farm Arena on Monday morning, Jan. 27, 2020 where the Atlanta Hawks played Sunday night mindful of the tragic deaths of Kobe Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash along with his daughter and seven others Sunday. Atlanta Hawks Trae Young reflected on the tragedy Sunday following the Hawks game at State Farm Arena. “We didn’t have a lot on our mind besides Kobe and Gigi and everybody in the accident,” Young told Fox Sports Southeast’s Andre Aldridge in his postgame interview after his electric performance. “We just wanted to go out and play hard, have that mamba mentality.” Gianna, a budding student of the game, was a big fan of Young’s, who attended some basketball camps of Bryant’s back in high school and watched him play in Oklahoma City in the later years of his career, when he wore No. 24 (the Wizards took a 24-second shot-clock violation to start Sunday’s game). Bryant eventually got in contact with Young’s trainer, Alex Bazzell, and enlisted his help working with Gianna. She and Bryant sat courtside for two Hawks games this season: the loss in Los Angeles Nov. 17 and the loss in Brooklyn Dec. 21.  In the wake of the crash, Young tweeted about meeting Gianna for the first time after the Lakers game, posting a picture of the two of them about to embrace in a hallway in Staples Center as Bryant looked on. “She told me how much she loved watching me play,” Young said of the encounter, a smile cracking through the sadness. “She was a big fan of mine.” JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
January 24, 2020 Atlanta: Morning walkers stroll past State Farm Arena on Monday morning, Jan. 27, 2020 where the Atlanta Hawks played Sunday night mindful of the tragic deaths of Kobe Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash along with his daughter and seven others Sunday. Atlanta Hawks Trae Young reflected on the tragedy Sunday following the Hawks game at State Farm Arena. “We didn’t have a lot on our mind besides Kobe and Gigi and everybody in the accident,” Young told Fox Sports Southeast’s Andre Aldridge in his postgame interview after his electric performance. “We just wanted to go out and play hard, have that mamba mentality.” Gianna, a budding student of the game, was a big fan of Young’s, who attended some basketball camps of Bryant’s back in high school and watched him play in Oklahoma City in the later years of his career, when he wore No. 24 (the Wizards took a 24-second shot-clock violation to start Sunday’s game). Bryant eventually got in contact with Young’s trainer, Alex Bazzell, and enlisted his help working with Gianna. She and Bryant sat courtside for two Hawks games this season: the loss in Los Angeles Nov. 17 and the loss in Brooklyn Dec. 21. In the wake of the crash, Young tweeted about meeting Gianna for the first time after the Lakers game, posting a picture of the two of them about to embrace in a hallway in Staples Center as Bryant looked on. “She told me how much she loved watching me play,” Young said of the encounter, a smile cracking through the sadness. “She was a big fan of mine.” JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

The Hawks expect that State Farm Arena will be open only to a small amount of friends and family for the first few home games of the 2020-21 season, but will open at about 10% capacity on MLK Day, Jan. 18, according to CEO Steve Koonin.

That would allow 1,700 fans in the stands.

“We just think the right plan is to crawl, walk and then run,” Koonin said. “When we talk about crawling, we are planning to open with no fans. ... Our first few games will just kind of be with friends and family so we can get all of our procedures and all of our protocol correct, because it’s going to be very, very different. And what we want is a great fan experience.”

Player, staff and fan safety is at the forefront of their thinking, per Koonin — masks will be mandatory and fans will be seated so that they’re spread out throughout the arena to account for social distancing. Fans will not be seated very close to the court or behind the players’ bench. The Hawks are still working through some details, but if they decide to allow fans in the lower section, those fans may have to undergo coronavirus testing. Hand sanitizing stations can be found throughout the building, and there may be additional safety measures taken as well, as the Hawks continue to strategize.

Before formulating this plan, the Hawks spoke to other teams who have had fans in the stands at games already.

“Our local guidelines allow us to have fans,” Koonin said. “We are previewing this with local governments prior to opening, but we’re learning from the Falcons and the University of Georgia and others on protocols and processes to have fans in the stands.”

NBA teams are all operating under different local guidelines in their cities, so some teams may not be able to have fans at all; it depends on their local rules.

The NBA season will start Dec. 22, delayed from its original start date in October because of the coronavirus, but the Hawks likely will open Dec. 23 and play just a few home games at State Farm Arena before MLK Day, since road trips will last longer this season as the league aims to limit travel. They view those games with family and friends of staff present as a trial run to make sure their protocols are effective and they have a routine down pat.

“We’re delighted to have people, but again, we have a responsibility for our guests, and we want to do everything right to create both safe and enjoyable experiences,” Koonin said. “And we think we’re going to be able to accomplish both.”

The Hawks will also wear their new MLK jerseys on that night.

Hawks leadership views this as a fluid situation, so changes to the plan could be made. On a positive note, more fans could be allowed later in the season, depending on the development of an effective vaccine and if it can be distributed.

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