Free throws and a high-tech basketball net

25 02 2012

NBA All-Star Saturday Night typically values style over substance, so it makes sense that a new technology incorporated into its main event follows along those lines. I came out with a story yesterday for Wired.com’s Playbook about the basketball net that will measure the force of dunks at the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. The project to develop the net was a collaboration between Turner Sports, whose TNT channel will broadcast all All-Star Weekend events, and MIT Media Lab, which works on these kinds of hair-brained projects.

I found out about this idea by reading a Reggie Miller Q&A in the L.A. Times. Miller stated in the interview that Sport Science was developing the net for the NBA’s dunk contest. (Sport Science is the TV series that airs occasionally on ESPN.) I read that on Tuesday, February 21, and I emailed a guy connected to Sport Science to find out if that was the case. He said it wasn’t. At the same time, I went to a contact at Turner, who stated that there was a high-tech net. However, the person said it wasn’t Sport Science and didn’t tell me initially who the net developer was. But I did get an interview with Pete Scott, an executive in Turner Sports Digital.

The room where I conducted the interview.

I knew that I had to get this interview quickly given that the dunk contest would be on a Saturday. As is usually the case with these  quick-turnaround stories, I had to settle on the first available time, which was at virtually the same time I was to attend a Nike event on NYC’s Lower East Side. So, as the event crawled to an end on Wednesday, I snuck into a room for the phone interview. Twenty-five minutes later, I had most of my details. I wrote the story on Thursday – with a few follow-up answers from Scott – and it posted Friday. You can read it by clicking on the link below.

Are you curious about the force with which a player dunks a ball? Does this serve value to you, as a basketball fan? Hit me up on Twitter or Google+.

New Net Rates the Force Behind Monster Slam Dunks

I also had a free throw-centric story on SLAMonline earlier this week. The idea for this one originated during the NBA lockout, when I was thinking of what I would want to cover once the work stoppage ended. An article documenting how NBA players devised their free throw routines seemed like a fun topic.

Do a Google search on free throws and observe the number of stories that delve into how players came up with their routines. There aren’t many of them. The free throw isn’t a sexy topic – I get that. But I’m always interested in how professional athletes develop their games, including from when they were kids or teenagers.

The free throw routine is sort of a sacred thing for every serious basketball player. It’s called a routine for a reason – the key is to do the same thing every time. In thinking that through, I realized there was more to a free throw story than to simply document the when and why a group of NBA players started their routines. I had to consider the psychology of the shot. Free throw coaches and sport psychologists play a role in helping players, particularly those in the NBA, refine their shots.

After speaking with about 12 NBA players throughout various locker room visits to Nets and Knicks games, I found a pair of free throw coaches and a couple of sport psychologists. The story can be found at the following link.

Are you curious about how NBA players have developed their free throw routines? Let me know.

The Art of the Free Throw

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