Tullamore native says NBA will have less theatrics without fans

Pictured above: Former basketball star Pat Burke in action for Ireland.

Tullamore native Pat Burke - the first Irish-born player in the NBA - recently featured on Basketball Ireland's interview series 'Bench Talk'.

Burke moved with his family from Tullamore to Cleveland Ohio when he was a young child.

He became the first Irish-born player in American's famed NBA when he signed for Orlando Magic in 2002, and he also played for the Phoenix Suns.

Burke also played basketball at a high level in Greece (winning three league titles with Panathinaikos), Spain, Russia and Poland. He was joint captain of the Ireland basketball team.

The Offaly native expects basketball to be a different spectacle in these unprecedented times, with Covid-19 restrictions meaning fans can't attend matches.

"I know that the fans and the crowd really add to the sensationalism of the game so you would have more of a theatrical performance. Like I don’t think you are going to see as much chest pounding. I haven’t even seen if LeBron (James) has done the whole powder and throwing it up in the air because there is nobody there to see it," said Burke.

"So it’s almost like when you take that element out of it, I think it will be more intimate with conversation if that makes sense. So the two opposing teams will probably talk quite a bit more about what’s going on because they are the only ones experiencing it outside of the live TV audience. So I’d say that the game will change in terms of its theatrics. It will probably be very hard for the camera man to find that little teaser at half-time of somebody showing their tattoo back because there’s nobody to show it to. It’s a little bit awkward.”

“For sure, the crowds make a difference. The audience almost demands your best efforts so imagine now when you get a little bit tired… instead of going down to neutral, you have got to always put it back up because the fans are always watching."

Burke said players "can’t drop a level" when thousands of supporters are watching and this brings excitement to proceedings. "Someone gets the tip dunk or someone makes that big three and all of a sudden you can feel the atmosphere change in the room. It’s going to be interesting to see when it’s not there, how they respond to that."

The former NBA star believes that eight seeding games (which teams will play before the play-offs) will be sufficient to get the players back fit for action.

“These are the fastest, biggest human beings on earth with this high skill level so you have to try and get them ready for that and say what’s acceptable in terms of energy and what’s not acceptable. I mean if they just started, I would say a lot of guys would be shocked and embarrassed going on live TV, if they just started right up. I guarantee you, there’s a couple of guys who have a beer belly and they need the eight games.”

Burke was also asked about the miniseries ‘The Last Dance’ - which revolves around the career of the legendary Michael Jordan - and how it shined a magnifying glass on relationship dynamics between players and agents.

“Everybody in the locker room, they have some sort of understanding of what’s going on because you think about it, we’re all being represented by agents and those agents are on the phone all the time so that network is feeding the rumour mill of what’s happening. So, any player who is not performing or on that trade block, they’re going to know about it."

Burke also spoke about the expectations of being an NBA player.

“It’s wearing on you. You know you come in with the best intentions... you’re not complaining, you’re playing professional basketball at the highest level, it’s exciting. Every day, something new is happening. There’s a celebrity walking into the room, you’re travelling to a really cool city, there’s just so many things but there is that underlying thing that it’s a business. Whether you are having the greatest moment, there’s still all these other things, these phone calls that kind of take you away from being on the court. Then there’s the politics of your team, who’s playing, who’s not, who’s in the rotation? You don’t look to complain about it, but it is always there. At the end of the day though, you’re loving it because where else are you going to be in that position and how long are you going to be there?”

*Pat Burke was speaking on Basketball Ireland's 'Bench Talk', which takes place on their social channels every Wednesday at 8pm.

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