National Sports

The NBA Is On To Something With Virtual Reality

The NBA has long been on the cutting edge of introducing modern technology and culture into an old sport, and virtual reality broadcasts are the next stage of consuming basketball at the highest level.

There’s a new way to watch basketball.

The NBA has long been on the cutting edge of introducing modern technology and culture into an old sport, and virtual reality broadcasts are the next stage of consuming basketball at the highest level.

Tuesday’s game between the Utah Jazz and Cleveland Cavaliers was the match selected by the league to broadcast in VR for the week, and media got a taste of the experience during the game.

With the help of an everyday smart phone and an inexpensive VR headset, I was taken from my temporary seat in the Jazz executive offices directly to the floor at center court (a much better view than most of the media seats at the top of the concourse, but I’m still not complaining).

I was eavesdropping as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were chatting inches away, George Hill and Gordon Hayward were coordinating their defensive set, and Rudy Gobert towered under the basket. As my gaze followed the play to the other side of the court, Rodney Hood nailed a three and the crowd around me erupted, as they did time after time during the game. I looked down to my lap and saw three points tally on the Jazz’ side of a virtual scoreboard.

I sit on the court in the photographers’ area at the Huntsman Center during Utah basketball games regularly, and even though the images of Jazz-Cavs was digitized, it really felt almost as real as the JMHC.

Don’t get me wrong. There are imperfections. There were only three views available—courtside and directly underneath either basket stanchion. Audio is not yet directional (although that is on the to-do list), so the audio is from a basic broadcast feed. While the view is certainly detailed, it’s still a far cry from reality.

In addition to the minor drawbacks of the experience itself, it’s available at just one select game a week, and is only available on a paid subscription to NBA Game Pass, which blacks out local broadcasts (you can’t watch a Jazz game normally or in VR while you’re in the Jazz TV market).

There’s room to grow, and NextVR, the company partnering with the NBA on this project, is working on improving the product. The league is trying to find ways to bring this to a wider group of fans for more games without causing issue with TV providers. An option for multitasking (i.e. a Twitter feed option on your screen) is in the works. NBA VR will soon be available on Playstation 4 VR, and within a year, 4K-quality in each eye will be ready for use.

Can you imagine sitting in your couch with a pair of buddies, each of you digitally sitting together courtside, still not more than a few paces from the fridge? Can you imagine not laboring through traffic or security, but still enveloped by surround sound while Rudy Gobert hammers a dunk over you?

We’re not there yet, but this is a terrific start.


Subscribe to ESPN700's News!

Get the latest sports news, contests and flyaways, and more straight to your inbox with our weekly emails.

Subscribe

* indicates required
Comments
To Top