Editor’s note: John Gaudiosi covers the videogame industry for Local Tech Wire.
PHOENIX, Ariz. — More than any professional sport, NBA players love to play videogames. A whopping 85 percent of NBA pros consider themselves gamers.
This weekend, at the 57th NBA All-Star Game in Phoenix, NBA pros took to the virtual hardwoods before performing under the lights of the US Airways Center. EA Sports, 2K Sports and Sony Computer Entertainment America all took part in the NBA Jam Session and various videogame contests and activities throughout the weekend.
Sony hosted the official NBA Players’ Lounge inside the Sheraton hotel where the NBA All-Stars stayed at all weekend. I spent some quality time in that suite watching players relax with a PlayStation 3 version of "NBA 09: The Inside" or "MotorStorm: Pacific Rift."
The San Antonio Spurs’ pool table was also very popular with NBA players present and past. Sony continued its sponsorship of the PlayStation Skills Challenge as part of NBA All-Star Saturday Night.
On Saturday afternoon, two of the four players participating in the challenge – Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls) and Devin Harris (New Jersey Nets) – took some time to do videogame interviews in the suite. They finished the afternoon with a heated game of "NBA 09" on a projection screen.
Further integrating the videogame into the NBA game, before Saturday night’s PlayStation Skills Challenge, a PS3 "NBA 09" video was shown to alert the audience in the arena and at home (watching on TNT) what the NBA stars would be doing in the obstacle course.
Viewers at home also got a chance to experience the most elaborate dunks in videogame form. TNT broadcast a special called "Slam Dunk Theater," which featured NBA stars talking about dunks they’d love to do. Using EA Sports’ "NBA Live 09," those dunks were then shown virtually – allowing players’ dreams to come true even if real physics wouldn’t allow it.
After watching the Sprite Slam Dunk Challenge on Saturday night, though, it’s likely some of those NBA players will be pulling off some of those videogame moves in the future. I was able to watch Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic) and Nate Robinson (New York Knicks) practice their amazing dunks backstage while I was waiting to interview the PlayStation Skills Challenge participants.
The NBA set up a 3-D broadcast of the Saturday Night All-Star Game in 35 states on over 120 screens at 80 movie theaters. Fans were able to watch the action in 3-D with the same clear glasses that James Cameron’s Avatar film will utilize. Backstage at the US Airways Center, the NBA had a mock theater, complete with sofas and a big screen for media to check out the 3-D broadcast.
Using special cameras not used in the TV broadcast, this new technology made me feel like I was on the court. I actually liked seeing the action from this 3-D screen better than in my seat in Section 109 of the arena. It’s just a matter of time before the wave of new 3-D TVs and PC monitors start incorporating real 3-D broadcasts, and sports is one of the best venues for this. Fox experimented with the BCS Championship Game with a 3-D broadcast in Las Vegas last month, and the NBA was the first to play around with this emerging technology.
Back to gaming, which already has 3-D technology from Nvidia for PC games, the NBA offered the first real-world sports application of videogame technology on Friday night with the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam. EA Sports held an "NBA Live 09" Jersey Creator Contest, and the winner got to see his jerseys used in the real rookies versus sophomores game on Friday night. Although it was unanimous that the purple jerseys were pretty ugly, the fact that an 18-year-old in New York can use his Xbox 360 to create a jersey and then see the top NBA players wearing that in a real game is very cool. EA Sports hopes to make this contest a regular thing. And they’d love to expand it to the NHL All-Star Game, as well.
All three NBA games – EA Sports’ "NBA Live 09," 2K Sports’ "NBA 2K9" and Sony’s "NBA 09: The Inside" – offered downloads and updates that allowed gamers at home to play in the US Airways Center arena with accurate floor design and the real players. A big improvement in the EA Sports and 2K Sports games was in offering real NBA player stats to the videogame. Rather than just having the same player rating all season long, how the players compete on the real hardwood now translates to the virtual. The NBA pros I spoke with said it changes the game and serves as an extra incentive for them to do well in the real game.