NBA players start wearing wearable health trackers

By: Jonah Comstock | Feb 19, 2014        

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Zephyr BioPatch

Zephyr’s BioPatch is a likely candidate for the NBA D-League’s new tracking initiative.

The National Basketball Association will become the first major American sports league to equip its players with wearable health and activity monitors — not just during practices, but during actual games as well. The NBA’s Development League (or D-League) has already begun to outfit players on D-League teams the Bakersfield Jam and Fort Wayne Mad Ants, with plans to provide tracking devices to 20 teams by the end of the season.

According to ESPN subsidiary Grantland, the players will wear 1-ounce devices from STAT Sports Technologies, Zephyr, or Catapult Sports, an Australian company which already provides biometric devices to the New York Knicks. The devices will be worn under players’ jerseys, either attached to their chests or in a jersey pouch between their shoulder blades.

“As the research and development arm of the NBA, the NBA D-League is the perfect place to unveil innovative performance analytic devices in-game,” said NBA D-League President Dan Reed said in a statement. “The revolutionary data captured gives teams a new opportunity to maximize on-court productivity while optimizing player health and peak player performance — key elements to player development and team success.”

In terms of tracking statistics and optimizing player performance, the trackers follow on some other initiatives the D-League has recently implemented, including SportsVU cameras that quantify and analyze every movement of live game action. But the health tracking features are more novel — they could help players to be aware of potentially career-threatening injuries before it’s too late.

Panelists including mobile health entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, as well as former players Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Charles Barkley, spoke about the devices at the NBA Tech Summit last Friday. According to a report from NBC sports, the panelists disagreed on how best to use stats to evaluate players, but agreed on the health value.

“Imagine a player whose data before an injury shows levels of cardiovascular exertion and jumping ability at a consistent point during peak periods of activity,” NBC’s Brett Pollakoff wrote. “After the injury, if a player is not yet back at 100 percent, a team can see exactly how far away he is from being all the way there, and the data will quantify it in specific numbers by detailing those areas of sub-par performance.”

This isn’t the NBA’s first brush with the world of mobile health: last year they moved their players to Cerner’s HealtheAthlete mobile EHR, just a week before the NFL signed a similar deal with eClinicalWorks.