How The NBA’s Big Data Strategy Will Change The Way You Watch Basketball

The NBA announced a new partnership with SAP that will change the game for fans and players alike.

How The NBA’s Big Data Strategy Will Change The Way You Watch Basketball
[Image: Flickr user Keith Allison]

Overwhelmed by fluid, fast-paced play, basketball fans have long thirsted for more: more statistics, more video replays, more analysis, more information. Now the NBA has partnered with SAP and STATS LLC to create a new, totally comprehensive statistical database that records everything that happens in every NBA game. And it’s free for fans all over the world at on Monday, November 25.


The first step for the NBA was to augment human scorers with a six-camera setup that automates the recording of player data on the court. But there was a bigger problem: mashing up all that data in one instantly accessible platform for fans.

So why would the NBA go to such lengths to provide such a versatile and comprehensive database? “We’re marrying video and stats,” says Michael Gliedman, senior vice president and chief information officer for the NBA. “They each tell one story, but they complement each other.”

How The Video Box Score Works

This year, the NBA entered into a comprehensive partnership this season with STATS, the company responsible for Sports VU. Six cameras track players’ every move by way of a specific set of data points including, but not limited to players’ names, numbers, and the ball. The league records these statistics and stores them in three data centers, one for in-game tracking, one for historical data, and one for video. The data has been available now for almost a year. In partnership with SAP, however, the NBA hopes to put this information to better use for teams and fans alike.


“We’re using video to contextualize statistics, to tell better and better stories, which is what our fans want. So we asked ourselves, ‘How do we take what we made for the media and scale it in such a way to allow people to ask questions and have them answered immediately?’” says Gliedman.

The answer? HANA and the “Video Box Score.”

SAP developed their HANA real-time platform, an in-memory computing platform with a caching layer able to combine and process and display statistics with corresponding video at incredible speeds. With it, fans can compile any and all manner of statistics and videos of their favorite teams and players and cross-reference that data against any available measure–opposing teams/players, for instance.


Even more astounding? Each measure of every game will be available–for free–within an hour of the final buzzer. They load almost instantly, with HANA sifting through quadrillions of combinations of stats to slice and dice the data exactly how a fan wants to see it.

The NBA Is Taking Control Of Its Own Statistical Revolution

Decidedly more digital friendly than the competition, the NBA has long emphasized keeping its sport on the cutting edge. The league does not post takedown notices on YouTube, for instance, and has fostered an entire community of tech-savvy basketball fans in too many ways to count. But to date, most fans rely on pre-edited highlight reels, SportsCenter and the like, to distribute content.

Now, however, the NBA is leading the charge. From launch, pre-roll ads will accompany videos monetizing the service right off the bat. Seemingly endless content will stream directly to fans’ and coaches’ computers alike, revolutionizing the way the game is understood.


Gone are the days of hoping ESPN shows the plays you want to see. Now, fans can watch every single alley-oop thrown to Blake Griffin during the Clippers’ 2012-2013 campaign, whenever they want. He had 52 of them, by the way. Lob City, indeed!

And it’s a fantasy owner’s wildest, well . . . fantasy.

The Next Generation Hoop Highlight Reel

Previously, the league charged one person with statistical computation at the scorer’s table, and another in the booth for video and correctional purposes. Now, with the aide of Sports VU cameras in every arena, fans will have access to video box scores for every team, player, and game, team and player pages, shooting charts, top lineup combinations, and contextualized and customizable play-by-play video of every play of every game, not to mention new stats:

  • Speed and Distance: distance traveled*, average speed*
  • Possession: touches*, points per touch*
  • Passing: assists, secondary assists*, passes leading to free throws*
  • Defense: blocks, steals, defending the basket* (opp field goal stats with player within 5 feet of the basket and the shooter)
  • Rebounding (REB): REB, REB chances* (player within 3.5 feet of a loose REB), REB percentage*
  • Drives: Defined as, “any touch that starts at least 20 feet of the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop, excluding fast breaks,” including PPG on Drives*, Total PTS on Drives*.
  • Catch and Shoot (CAS): Defined as, “any jump shot outside of 10 feet where a player possessed the ball for 2 seconds or less and took no dribbles,” including CAS PPG*, CAS 3FG per game*, Total CAS PTS*.
  • Pull Up Shots (PUS): Defined as, “any jump shot outside 10 feet where a player took 1 or more dribbles before shooting,” including PUS PPG*, PUS 3FG per game*, Total PUS PTS*.

*Denotes statistics not previously available to fans.

In addition to, the NBA gametime app and NBA TV will all utilize the new technology to boost the fan experience.

What’s Next For the NBA?

At launch, the service will be available to anyone at, but only for desktop platforms. Gliedman indicated mobile is the league’s priority, but they’ve yet to figure out a way to provide such vast video content effectively through mobile devices. After all, the sample set is enormous.


“We have a very wide database with a lot of permutations, 4 ½ quadrillion,” says Gliedman. “We wanted to scale so that we could get 15,000 people running queries against it simultaneously. We’re scaled scaled for 250 queries per second, and 15-20,000 users at the same time.”


About the author

Matt Hartigan writes about sports technology for Co.Labs. He graduated from the University of Southern California in 2006 where he studied English, Psychology, Fine Arts and spectatorship