• Olivier Auguste

Tech & Hoops: The Toronto Raptors' Digital War Room

Just like the world of social and tech, the NBA universe moves at light speed. One could almost forget its main function at times, truly. The great Bill Russell put us on game as he always does, “What these youngbloods have to understand, that this game has always been and will always be, about buckets.”

The game we’ve all grown to love has surpassed what was envisioned at its inception. It’s now a self-driving Tesla-like contraption vehicle capable of spewing new storylines every single day. Like a good shamgod, sports pundits will reach for stories on occasion, but even then the league powers itself on auto-pilot.

Year-round, this game is filled with theatrics on and off the floor. This game’s players drive fashion, film, politics, and a seemingly overabundance of production companies.

The NBA is dead-center at the intersection of hoops, pop culture, business, and tech––all driven by social media. The mad scientist that is Commissioner Adam Silver has his foot on proverbial sport’s world’s neck, as the kids would say.

The other professional sports league simply can’t keep up as the NBA finds itself leaps and bounds ahead of the digital curve and technological revolution. They capitalize on personality and seamless connection to their core audience. The proof is in the multi-million dollar sponsorship patches. Data, information, and availability sells.

In the case of the Toronto Raptors earlier this summer, it helped them cash out the biggest prize. The Larry O'Brien was ripped from the Bay, away from Silicon Valley and their technological hub of the world. IBM’s technology played a significant role in the overall development of the franchise over the last few years. It might’ve been the glue piecing together their historic run, bringing the franchise’s first championship ever.

The tech-maven already has a long withstanding history with sports and analytics. IBM has partnered closely with the US Open, ESPN Fantasy Insights, and Augusta National.

The Raptors very quietly built a digital war room in 2016. The partnership bond was supplemented by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. In the age of data and analytics, teams are heavily relying on information to help them drive decisions based on the insight they can afford––anything to give a competitive advantage and improve team performance and cohesion.

In a first-of-its-kind solution, the Raptors capitalized on an influx of data piecing together their roster and chemistry on and off the court ultimately leading to its first-ever championship parade. The digital war room collected and analyzed data from a variety of outside sources. Structured, unstructured, and proprietary data were examined under scope to help the Raptors’ front office make better and more informed decisions.

Yes, some fancy top-of-the-line tech ended Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan’s bromance. Tragic. Well, almost tragic.

IBM’s iX team worked closely with Raptors’ management creating solutions based on their platform powered by IBM’s Sports Insights Central. The solution made the most of player insight, driving decisions and personnel. Everything was taken into account regarding player data in real-time, including potential trade-scenarios and draft picks. The focus targeted talent acquisition across the board and dug deeper into coaching, training, health, and fitness.

A win for Kawhi’s load management?

The digital war room evaluated all aspects of team performance and turned actionable data into wins throughout the last few seasons. The OVO Athletic Centre is filled with interactive touchscreens strengthening scouting and recruitment.

Even social media was analyzed and taken into consideration, scanning who could fit with who within the locker room. Player history and biometrics were taken into account, providing a full 360-degree vantage point of the athlete’s make-up.

It gave the Raptors the ability to examine and understand personality fits, chemistry, and how the roster might fare with Nick Nurse’s offense and defensive schemes. The technology also took into consideration overall wellness, suggesting how to best train their players and manage injury-prevention.

Data and information sells, proving to be extremely valuable. These capabilities paid off, merging in-depth stats, contractual breakdowns, and guiding player management.

A big win for Kawhi’s load management? Definitely worth it.

The pairing meshed right away, essentially a match made in heaven. Head coach Nick Nurse found a way to adhere to Kawhi’s health and mindset. All camps seemed to get along where no boundaries were crossed. Assistant coach Phil Handy played his role, consistently developing players and nurturing relationships. For good measure, a trust advisory, he’s since been tapped as the Lakers new assistant coach.

Wins might not settle differences, but a championship surely nurses scarred relationships back to good health. Despite any spiciness between Raptors’ President Masai Ujiri and franchise PG Kyle Lowry, or even Kawhi’s departure. History was made. This brotherhood is bound by this memorable run etched in the country’s memory forever. The North will remember.

It's time for the Raptors' organization to defend its title, we'll see what's in store this time around.

Olivier Auguste is an NBA lifestyle writer based in New York City. Follow him on Twitter for more insight on hoops, music, and the culture we love.

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