LeBron James missed 26 of the Los Angeles Lakers’ final 30 games dealing with an ankle injury.
What if there were a product that would have prevented the injury or made it less severe? Or what if there were a technology or therapy that would have allowed him to get back on the court sooner?
That’s what the league is seeking as it introduces NBA Launchpad, the league’s “latest initiative to source, evaluate, and pilot emerging technologies that advance the NBA’s top basketball priorities across all levels of the game.”
In essence, the NBA wants your help to improve the game, and in its initial callout to entrepreneurs and companies, the league is seeking innovative products, technologies or other platforms that address four NBA priorities: reducing the burden of ankle injuries; elevating health and wellness in youth basketball; enhancing elite youth player performance; and innovating referee training and development.
“It’s always been our interest to be an innovative, tech-forward organization, to be exploring ways to improve the product,” NBA executive vice president of basketball strategy and analytics Evan Wasch told USA TODAY Sports. “The reason we’re forming this new platform is essentially to allow us to take more control of that process."
Wasch described Launchpad as a cross between “an incubator, crowd-source platform and 'techstars' program."
The NBA is accepting applications now through August and will announce finalists in each category in September. The league will have a selection day where finalists present to NBA stakeholders with the idea of selecting one winner in each track. Pilot programs will begin next season across various NBA properties.
Submissions are accepted at NBA Launchpad and via email: [email protected]
While the NBA has worked with several tech companies, many of whom are already focused on sports, it wants to broaden the scope of its partners to include academics and entrepreneurs in adjacent fields such as healthcare and workplace improvement.
"We want tangible solutions to these problems," Wasch said. "We just don’t care where it comes from. We don’t care if it comes from a big company that has invested heavily in the space. We don’t care if it comes from an entrepreneur, an academic — anyone who has a tangible product or technology that can advance these priorities, we’re open to."
The NBA is introducing its Launchpad initiative to source, evaluate and pilot emerging technologies to improve the game, (Photo: Bob Donnan, USA TODAY Sports)
Ankle injuries are the No. 1 injury accounting for games missed by players, and 25% of players sustain an ankle injury during the season.
“That is one of the most burdensome injuries that our players face,” Wasch said. “It’s both impacting a lot of our players and the amount of games they play.”
Someone might have an answer. Could be an innovative ankle brace that prevents ankle sprains. Could be predictive software that incorporates player movement and adjusts the way a player runs or jumps. Or a therapeutic product that helps a player return quicker.
“All of these things would be within scope because ultimately, we want to prevent the injuries in the first place, make them less severe when they happen and speed up the return to play process when they do happen,” Wasch said.
Grassroots youth basketball
Health and wellness in grassroots basketball is a priority, Wasch said, because of injuries, minutes and games played, fatigue and burnout.
“We’re looking for technologies, platforms and software than can promote health and wellness among youth basketball players,” he said.
Maybe that’s a wellness app to track nutrition and activity. Maybe it’s injury prevention strategies.
Players in the 15-18-year-old range who potentially could play in the NBA, G League and/or college basketball are also high on the league’s priority list. It wants to make sure those players have all the tools necessary to improve performance. The NBA has basketball academies in Australia, China, India, Africa and Latin America, works with USA Basketball’s junior national teams and has teens at its G League Ignite team.
Wasch offered suggestions: virtual reality technology that improves cognitive processing, visual ability and skill development.
During the past few seasons, the NBA has expanded its officiating initiatives and created in-house software under NBA senior vice president and head of referee development and training Monty McCutchen.
The league wants to do more.
“Most forward-thinking tech developers in the world aren’t really focused on officiating as a sexy area for them to invest them,” Wasch said. “If we can communicate to the marketplace, there is a market here, there is the opportunity to be affiliated with the NBA to shape the future of NBA officiating through training technologies, talent identification, we want to see it and we want to know how we can leverage that."
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