Scrimmage days have finally started, and everything and everyone is looking good. It’s been a harrowing 4 months for those among us who live and breathe basketball; and even as the new slogan says: “It’s a whole new game”, I’ll take it any which way.
Each team will compete in 3 warm-up games with other teams from July 22-28 in preparation for the NBA Restart. In a few days – July 30 to be exact – the NBA resumes the campaign to determine who will be the lucky 16 moving forward to the coveted NBA playoffs. It will indeed be a whole new ballgame, with the arena devoid of screaming fans, and missing the distinct aroma of popcorn and hotdogs and beer. There will be no live audience for the remainder of the games due to the catastrophe that is COVID-19. But the NBA has come up with unique innovations to sustain the interest of fans worldwide.
Fans are in for something new, with the NBA working closely with Microsoft to personalize the fans’ individual viewing experience. Microsoft’s goal is “to create an enjoyable and immersive experience where fans can engage with each other and maintain a sense of community.”
That said, a “Together Mode” will create a courtside-type experience where some 300 selected fans are invited each game to digitally interact in a shared visual space while watching the games in the comfort of their own homes. With this exciting innovation, friends will have the feeling of seating next to each other in the arena while enjoying the game in a socially-distanced environment.
There will also be new viewing angles as robotic cameras will have better and closer access, with no fans hampering mobility on the sidelines. Microphones will enhance the sounds from the floor, making sneaker squeaks, ball bounces, grunts and trash talk more audible. There will be customized viewing options on NBA League Pass, allowing fans to choose alternate feeds from different camera angles, enhancing graphics and even accessing more in-depth analytics.
There will be a virtual cheering experience for fans using the NBA app and on Twitter using team hashtags. This will capture the level of fan engagement across the globe. There will be TikTok challenges for fans who may wish to have their game videos featured. Snapchat, on the other hand, will give fans the opportunity to explore a virtual rendering of the official court in Orlando. There will be virtual tours of the Bubble, plus extensive interviews on topics cagewise or otherwise. These are just some of the innovations being laid out to sustain fan interest in a beloved game which, for now, fans cannot enjoy up close and personal.
Already, the college campus atmosphere in the Bubble is giving players and teams alike a heavy dose of learnings. Not just in individual on-court play standards, but more importantly, in the players’ off-court demeanor that coaches and managers are watching closely. This Bubble experience will be a boon to those teams that joined, and a bane to those who failed to make it. This experience will provide players and officials alike that golden opportunity to be together for a prolonged period, providing valuable insights for teams keen on creating line-ups with a serious intent to go after the NBA crown.
This early, I’m sounding off a watch-for-it alarm for the Denver Nuggets. With new acquisition Bol Bol looking ready to upgrade an already elite center slot, and Nikola Jokic sliding down to take the point guard chores, there is a huge improvement in the team’s ceiling. This could be the NBA’s new norm innovation that will influence the league for years to come. This is similar to Magic Johnson’s entry to the Lakers’ team in 1980, paving the way to LA’s championship season. Magic was a tall point guard, capable of playing all positions. In this case, Jokic is already an all-star center, capable of playing all positions. And the Nuggets have another bright star in the making in Michael Porter Jr, waiting in the wings to show his wares as well. This is ‘Tall Ball’, and it could be the next big thing in basketball; after Steph’s and Klay’s stretching the defense with their double-barreled 3-point barrage, the coming-of-age of Golden State’s small-ball unit, and the introduction of positionless ball.
Come and watch the NBA. Where new viewing experiences, new technology innovations, new player alliances, new cage philosophies and plays provide the promise of new thrills. Indeed, it’s a whole new game!
For a closer look, just click on the pics. Cover photo courtesy of Clutch Points. Other photos courtesy of: YouTube, SpaceCityScoop, Silver Screen and Roll, Clutch Points, Off the Glass, Cavaliers Nation, Hoops Habit, CBS Sports, NBA.com, World Sports Tale, Project Spurs, Sportskeeda, Breaking News, Lakers Nation, Exxentially Sports, CCN.com, SLC Dunk, San Diego Tribune, Yahoo Sports, and The Sports Rush.