Empty is how most arena's are looking in the NBA due to the pandemic. (Photo: Warren Roseborough)

As a photojournalist for The New Tri-State Defender, I have worked many season-opening nights for the Memphis Grizzlies, but …

At this point, I mention “COVID-19” and every reader can complete my sentence with something like, “none like this one.”

Welcome to the 2020-21 NBA season.

I noticed something different as soon I arrived at the media parking lot outside the FedExForum on Wednesday night. The lot was about one-third full.

With my gear in tow, I made it to the media check-in point. It, too, was way less crowded than normal. No matter, I was excited to get back to the “grind house.”

Positioned to shoot at my assigned spot, I was hit in the face with the view of a soberingly empty arena that would have been loud and abuzz with excitement in a non-pandemic reality.

As the players were being introduced, I settled into the new norm – this is just the way it’s going to be until we whip this pandemic.

I watched Ja Morant, last year’s NBA Rookie of the Year, take what could be his first steps toward an All-Star season. Connecting with confidence from beyond the three-point arch and at one point bouncing the ball off of the backboard to himself for a dunk, well, he was worth watching – live or on film – en route to 44 points and nine assists.

Ja Morant scores on Keldon Johnson of the Spurs. (Photo: Warren Roseborough)

The Grizzlies fell to the Spurs 131-119. And while losing the first game wasn’t cool, the outcome was always going to share the headline with the surreal scenario forced by COVID-19.

Meanwhile, I’m hoping and praying for the return of the accustomed normal environment, punctuated by screaming fans and great food!