If you’ve perused the articles that came out of this year’s (and last year’s and all the year’s, Katie) Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference, it can read like a Phillip K. Dick-ian dystopic what-is-to-come; players hooked up to newfangled whizbangers and geegaws, military-inspired technology tracking their every move, and so on.
The great(s) Steve McPherson and Andrew Lynch were watching a friday night tilt on the first eve of this years Summer League when they spotted what looked like a flashing green light under Aron Baynes’ jersey. I was watching with them and it was really odd. Of course, at one time or another, we’ve all thought the Spurs were actually robots or androids or possibly…gasp!…Cylons that Pop or RC Buford was controlling from some secret vat of goo. JUMP!
But as is oft the case, the truth is stranger (or at least more interesting) than fiction:
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us …”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald
It all started with a little green light.
On the first night of the NBA’s summer league in Las Vegas, the San Antonio Spurs played the Charlotte Bobcats. As Spurs center Aron Baynes prepared to inbound the ball from the baseline, a small green light was visible, blinking steadily through the white mesh of his jersey.
First question: Is he a cyborg?
Second, more sensible question: Is that the biometric monitoring the Spurs have used in the D-League?
A stroll behind the bench confirmed every Spur had a small bulge, just between the shoulder blades, blinking green.
Fascinating. Mysterious. And as it turns out, loaded with potential: It’s part of a system that has led to a huge reductions in injury, and dramatic improvements in performance, in a professional league half a world away.
After the game, the Spurs communications staff opted to “politely decline” the opportunity to talk about the green light.
We learned from 48 Minutes of Hell’s Andrew McNeill that the Austin Toros — the Spurs’ D-League affiliate — were trying out some technology made by Catapult Sports.
“It’s a load meter and it’s a new sports science thing,” Toros coach Brad Jones explained to McNeill. “It’s like a vest you put on underneath [your clothes] and you wear it in practice and it keeps track of the energy you’re burning.”
The key term here is “load,” the aggregate energy put into and stress placed upon the body during athletic activity. In basketball terms, this may mean — according to the Catapult Sports site, which confirms the Spurs as clients — measuring “the speed of a shooting guard coming off a down-screen, the impact force of a center banging on the low block, or the total distance covered by a point guard over the course of a game, week or season.”
Was this what the Spurs were wearing? An article on the company by Forbes’ Alex Konrad noted that “[w]earable sensors are still banned in the U.S. during official game play.”
Konrad put us in touch with Catapult’s Gary McCoy who, it turned out, was in Las Vegas, ready and willing to sit down to talk about what Catapult Sports does.
It’s the future, yo. Get used to it. Read the full article, including some very pertinent thoughts on what the ethical dilemmas of all this meta-data mining might portend.