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The NBA just invested in this hot AI startup to train and find its next crop of global superstars

The app, backed by the likes of Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin, and Joe Harris, as well as Alibaba, Mark Cuban, and more, just got drafted to the pros.

The NBA just invested in this hot AI startup to train and find its next crop of global superstars

During the NBA draft three weeks ago, Zion Williamson was the number-one pick for the New Orleans Pelicans.

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Today, the AI-powered basketball training app HomeCourt is being drafted by the NBA to help it find and develop the next Williamson.

The NBA has announced a new partnership with HomeCourt that uses the app’s technology to develop and train players at all skill levels, making it an integral part of the league’s youth basketball development initiatives around the world.

In addition, the league is making a strategic investment in Nex Team, the San Jose-based startup behind HomeCourt as part of its $8.5 millon series A funding round. Other investors include Will Smith’s Dreamers Fund, the Alibaba Entrepreneurship Fund, and a laundry list of pro ballers, including Al Horford, Sue Bird, Bradley Beal, and the Plumlee brothers (Mason and Miles), all of whom join Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Brooklyn Nets co-owner (and Alibaba executive vice chairman) Joe Tsai, both of whom also invested in Nex Team’s seed round last summer.

In the year since its launched, HomeCourt has logged more than 25 million shots, 20 million dribbles, 3.5 million minutes, with users across 170 countries. With that scale and accessibility, the NBA is hoping it’ll help more efficiently identify and discover basketball talent around the world.

“This is just a bull’s-eye for us in terms of a product that will allow us to grow the game of basketball globally,” says NBA chief innovation officer Amy Brooks. “We’re excited about the advanced technology and AI, and our ability to reach players of all levels, both elite and casual, and engage with them.”

HomeCourt essentially uses an iPhone camera to track and chart basketball shots and other practice drill performance in real time while providing instant video review and statistical analysis. Beyond the individual aspects of the platform, much like Nike Plus, its users can compete with and measure themselves against each other. A kid in Pennsylvania can have a three-point shooting contest with a kid in Paris. The platform’s easy accessibility—all you need is a smartphone—also expands the potential to find both skilled players and raw talent in unexpected or remote places without having to send scouts.

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[Image: courtesy of HomeCourt]
“It democratizes the ability for us to find elite players globally, but more broadly, it gives so many people fun incentives to play basketball,” says Brooks. “Kids can challenge their siblings, their teammates, there’s coaching applications, and as the NBA we can make it even more fun.”

[Image: courtesy of Homecourt]
With the new partnership, the NBA and HomeCourt are integrating prizes and in-app incentives into the user experience. The new updated app, launching today, includes two new league-branded challenges, the NBA Summer Dribble Battle, and the NBA Summer Shootout. Players can also earn NBA performance badges that can get them discounts on league apparel.

“These are just a couple of examples of all the different levels of experiences we can build with HomeCourt,” says Nex Team cofounder Alex Wu. “Once we digitize your basketball life, there are so many things we can do.”

Wu says another example of potential uses is building in recovery to the workouts, with some NBA brand partner incentives. “If we know you’ve been working out too much, we can give you some recovery advice, and maybe work with Gatorade to do something fun around that,” he says.

Brooks says that’s the next step. “Our partners are with us to reach our fans in ways that benefit their business, so we see this as a tech-forward way to reach fans in a really engaging way, and we think a lot of brands are going to be interested in getting involved in this.”

[Image: courtesy of HomeCourt]
Former NBA star Steve Nash first met Nex Team two years ago at MIT’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, and he’s been working with HomeCourt since (and is also an investor). He says this new deal is a mutually beneficial partnership that combines the NBA’s scale and distribution with HomeCourt’s community and technology to level the playing field for a lot of people.

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“Allowing young players to see what’s out there, not only to teach them the game, but to see a community of players and their age group and what they’re doing,” says Nash. “What is this standard? Who is the best? How can I get to that level? That would’ve been really powerful for me growing up in a relatively small basketball market. One of the most powerful things that we’ll see from this app is the community and the ability to have a platform that shares all the talent that’s out there connecting all those people, countries, and cultures.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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