NBA COO Mark Tatum Discusses Futuristic Games, 2K League

AUSTIN, Texas — Could basketball fans project an NBA game in the palm of their hand or onto a dinner table? They’re two futuristic examples of how the league’s new partnership with Magic Leap — a mixed reality and technology firm — could evolve in the coming years, according to Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum.

He discussed the illustrations during a panel at South by Southwest this past Friday, where he was joined by ESPN’s Sage Steele, Cisco’s Chief Technology Officer Chintan Patel and Houston Rockets legend Clyde Drexler.

Magic Leap along with the NBA and Turner announced their partnership on Feb. 13 at Recode’s Code Media conference, with the three companies working collectively to produce content and highlights for the technology company’s much-anticipated headset.

When ESPN’s Steele asked Tatum about any “crazy ideas” that come to mind from an innovation and technological perspective, the league’s No. 2 in command referenced the new deal.

“This mixed reality programming is pretty amazing where you put on the Magic Leap headset and into a room like this and all of a sudden, I see game action right in the room. I can swipe up and look at various statistics of each player,” Tatum said. “I can go deeper on the players. It’s right there in this room. It’s not that far away where we will be watching games in a hologram, where these things will get projected. We could say, ‘Let’s turn on the Cavaliers-Knicks game right now’. We’ll have some sort of device that will project it, you can make it bigger. It’ll look like players are running up and down the court.”

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Added Tatum: “It’s not that far away. I mean, this is something we used to watch on Star Trek and all of that, these holograms. But, we’re not that far away from that technology.”

The senior executive didn’t specify an exact timeline or provide an estimate on when this could happen in the future. On stage last month, Commissioner Adam Silver had similar remarks, saying “You can be on the court, you can be over the court. The experience will also include data overlays, and the ability to watch game scenes on a kind of virtual TV.”

Pricing and a launch date for Magic Leap’s creator headset will be announced this Spring.

Below are a few more highlights from the discussion.

1) Steele asked Tatum about what’s ultimately the goal for the NBA 2K League, which will kick off competition in May and feature 17 of the league’s 30 franchises fielding a six-person roster.

Said Tatum: “The ultimate goal is to create a competition amongst these gamers around the game of basketball and to grow it into a truly global sport. … There are fans all over the world. Fans in China, Japan, Africa, Europe, South America, and we’re going to have teams eventually from Team Beijing will play Team Delhi which will play Team London against the eCeltics team. And truly create a global eLeague competition.”

Based on Tatum’s comments from this past weekend and over the last year, the globalization of the NBA 2K League seems inevitable. Last week in New York, executives with the Cleveland Cavaliers also discussed the possibility of global expansion.

2) During the session, Tatum touched on the Golden State Warriors, Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings who have all upgraded their venues in recent years or are working toward upgrading their arenas to enhance the fan experience.

Tatum highlighted in particular the Kings and Golden 1 Center, which became the first sports and entertainment venue in 2016 where fans could provide feedback about the arena’s temperature via the Kings and venue app. The crowd-sourced mechanism is another example of how teams are trying to better cater to fans’ needs and wants.

“They’ve really focused on making sure the experience for the fan is frictionless from the time they show up at the front door till the time that they leave,” said Tatum of all 30 NBA teams.

About Mark J. Burns

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