BOSTON-One could start calling it the NDA-National Data Association.
At the NBA Finals with the Boston Celtics against the Los Angeles Lakers, data is playing a key position.
While the National Basketball Association's Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are putting on "the show" on the hardwood, there's a sophisticated data infrastructure behind the scenes carrying video and statistical information to points around the TD Banknorth Garden, online and around the world-instantly.
"The heart and soul of any league is its data and its statistical systems," Stephen Hellmuth, executive vice president of Operations and Technology for the NBA, said here before Game 1 of the Finals. "So while video might look important, more people are actually relying on data."
Data collection starts right at courtside, where the NBA's Precision Time System connects the scoreboard and shot clocks right to the referees' belt units and whistles and on to an LED lighting system encircling the floor. Refs can start the clock with their belt units and stop it via a sensor in their whistles. The stoppage lights up the LED system, which also lights up when the clocks read zero.
Behind the Scenes at the NBA Finals.
The timing system is linked to the statistics center at courtside, which logs who stopped the clock and when. That data is fed into a set of Lenovo X60 Tablet notebooks with integrated touch-screens and software by IDS (Information &Display Systems). Statisticians touch a layout of the court, noting which team has possession, who took a shot and whether he missed or made it, who dished out the assist, who grabbed a rebound, and who committed a foul. The data collected on these notebooks is instantly transmitted around the Garden to monitors for the media and broadcasters.
The notebooks are a prized piece of equipment, which are stripped down to the bare essentials to ensure security and data integrity. Though they run Windows XP, the only other software running on the systems is IDS stats software. Even the USB and Wi-Fi have been turned off, said Jay Wessel, vice president of technology for the Boston Celtics.
The data feed is also transmitted over a closed-network T-1 line to NBA headquarters in Secaucus, N.J., where the information is put online, giving real-time game information and box scores on NBA.com. The Web site saw record traffic in 2008 of 1.2 billion visits and 300 million video streams, said Steve Grimes, vice president of Interactive Services for NBA Entertainment.
The league also controls the video feeds coming from the TV networks, putting that online at NBA.com, as well as tagging each video segment with information such as team, player, type of play and time of game. The data is fed into a database that enables the league and teams to call up specific play scenarios as a review, coaching and game-planning tool.
The NBA's Hellmuth explained that the data infrastructure is unique in the sports world, "the only system that disseminates statistical information, timing systems [and] scoring to a global audience around the world," he said. "The very game is defined by possessions and statistics, which are the two languages of sports."