SACRAMENTO, Calif.--"This is the real Google," taunted Sacramento Kings guard Orlando Johnson.
Johnson leaned in, dribbling a basketball, ready to explode to the hoop. Only teammates Ray McCallum and Jason Thompson stood in the way. Through the Google Glass I was wearing, I watched Thompson prepare to stop Johnson. From Thompson's exact point of view.
Moments earlier, I'd watched as McCallum had dribbled in, jumped high in the air, and dunked the ball hard. My view? A look at the rim from a couple of feet away, close enough to see the stitches on the net, again from Thompson's vantage point,
Each of the three Kings was wearing Glass, and each was recording as they worked their way through an informal shootaround hours before the night's game against the New Orleans Pelicans. As they played, they taunted and bragged, well aware of the technology they were wearing. "Google, record that," one shouted as he made a sweet shot. "Google, stop Ray," Johnson commanded.
Johnson, McCallum, and Thompson were wearing Google Glass as part of a new program the Kings have started that is designed to let fans see things like shootarounds, pre-game workouts, and even in-game huddles from the players' perspective. Using technology developed by San Francisco's CrowdOptic, the Kings plan on making feeds from Glass being worn by players, announcers, the team's mascot, and even its cheerleaders, available during games to anyone running its app on their own Glass, on TV, and on the arena's JumboTron. Unfortunately, players will not wear Glass during actual game action.
The Kings' experiment is an interesting one that promises to offer fans a unique new look at game day action. Along with other experiments, like, using drones to shoot video inside the team's Sleep Train Arena, and even incorporating Oculus Rift, the Kings are trying to take the lead among NBA teams when it comes to using technology to enhance fans' experiences.
And no wonder, given that the team's ownership group is packed full of tech heavyweights like Tibco Software founder Vivek Ranadive; Paul, Hal, and Jeff Jacobs (whose father founded Qualcomm); Leap Motion President (and former Apple vice president); and former Facebook chief privacy officer Chris Kelly. Thanks to those connections, the team, in its search for new tech to try out, is "literally one phone call away from every tech CEO in the world," said Kings senior vice president for marketing and strategy Ben Gumpert.
But back to Glass. Here's how it works.
When Glass records video, it can broadcast that feed, and CrowdOptic's software can capture it, send it back out, allowing anyone running its app to "inherit" the feed. Although there's a short delay, it means that an average Glass wearer -- or later, someone running the CrowdOptic app on a smart phone -- will be able to see just what I saw when I watched Thompson, Johnson, and McCallum play 1-on-2: an up close and very personal view of getting dunked on.
To start with, the Kings bought 10 pairs of Glass, meaning that at any one time, there are few possible feeds that fans could inherit. But over time, as the team buys more, or fans' own Glass or smartphone feeds are incorporated into the mix, CrowdOptic's algorithms will be brought to bear to help find the most compelling views for fans. As Jon Fisher, the company's CEO explained, its technology is able to analyze multiple feeds coming from a similar location and choose the best one to share. Ultimately, when there's hundreds, or even thousands, of feeds choose from, "the fans will be in charge," said vice president of business development (and former NFL linebacker) Jim Kovach. "They're going to see what they want to see."
As far as the players are concerned, wearing Glass and using the hot wearable technology to give fans a little more access is a no-brainer. According to Thompson, the best way to use it is when doing "tricks and dunks, and flashy things....[You can] see different things, like the way people talk."
That's exactly what CrowdOptic is hoping pro sports teams will realize. In addition to the Kings, the company is working with a half-dozen other (as yet unnamed) NBA franchises, as well as some college teams. The technology, said Kovach, lets fans have a much closer look at players' personalities. "They have their quirks, and you can't pick that up from the stands," Kovach said, referring to things like players messing around during workouts, or on the sidelines. "It's just interesting to see."
To be sure, this technology isn't ready for widespread deployment. Though the Kings have tested it out during two recent games, the team has so far only pushed the feeds to the arena's JumboTron screen. For now, network support is the limiting factor. But soon, Glass wearers will be able to see what it's liked to get dunked on by an NBA player.
"This is a new century," Thompson said. "It's 2014, and this is definitely the future, not just of basketball, but of the world."
Then again, maybe McCallum put it better as he scrimmaged against Johnson and Thompson. "Oooooooh, Google," the 22-year-old guard said as he drained a pretty bucket over his teammates.