The NBA faced a challenge: How could they make the draft experience as special as possible without hosting the event in-person like usual?
Carlton Myers, Associate Vice President of Event Management and Production Development for the NBA, leads a group in charge of answering that question. His team handles entertainment and technology for the tentpole events related to the league.
Those duties typically range from booking NBA’s annual All-Star Weekend all the way to the details of piping in crowd noise and displaying virtual fans during the games played in the NBA Bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
Traditionally, on the night of the draft, his team would oversee elements including everything from the lighting in the arena to the graphics seen on the jumbotron at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York. This year, due to the ongoing pandemic, the NBA obviously had to take a new approach.
“A lot of other leagues have had virtual drafts this year,” Myers told HoopsHype. “We feel like what we’re doing is similar to those but different in that what we concentrated most on us was the experience for the players at home. We wanted to give them as similar an experience as to what they would have otherwise had.”
This required them to deploy several unique strategies to bring the draft experience directly to the prospects, wherever they are. For example, one of the most iconic moments of the NBA draft is when the draftee gets to put on the hat of the team that selects them.
Continuing that tradition but with a 2020 twist, prospects will receive an NBA draft gift locker that will include a full set of New Era x NBA 2020 Draft 9Fifty gray-colored hats.
The league has instructed players to tell them the name of the person who will be handing them the hat, whether it is one of their parents or one of their children.
“It was nice to get all 30 hats,” NBA prospect Grant Riller told HoopsHype. “But at the end of the night, I’m going to be happy to wear just one.”
For the league to best encapsulate that special memory, 19 of the prospects will have satellite trucks outside of their homes as well as a camera placed inside of their living room.
Fifteen of those 19 satellite trucks were assigned to domestic prospects across the United States. Four others will be stationed internationally in Spain, France, Greece and Israel.
Meanwhile, 39 other prospects have received broadcast technology kits that include an iPhone with a tripod, a Microsoft Surface tablet, a ring light, another LED light and cables for connections. This allows prospects to view the broadcast through the makeshift, at-home studio so that they can watch live.
One of the victories is that the league had the ability to officially invite far more players than ever. Last year, only 23 prospects received “green room” invitations to sit in front of the podium as they wait to hear their names called.
This year, however, that number has more than doubled as a total of 58 players were asked to participate in the television broadcast in Bristol, Connecticut.
“The biggest challenge of being virtual became one of our best solutions, which was inviting this number of players,” said Myers. “It’s the most we’ve ever dealt with. We are able to achieve this by utilizing all of this great technology.”
Of course, in case of an unexpected tech support emergency, the NBA’s player marketing department has assigned a group of people tasked solely with ensuring that everything runs smoothly over the course of the night. Each prospect will be asked to do multiple rehearsals to ensure everything will be working properly.
When it is all said and done, the setup will capture their immediate reactions without a 30-second delay while also giving the ESPN studio hosts access to conduct interviews with the players, giving them the opportunity to share their stories.
“This is something that is really special to me,” added Riller. “Because in a normal year I might not have been in New York and I may not have been on television. But this year, my family and I will be able to experience that together and they can see my face on TV.”
For further exposure, there will be a huge LED screen behind the draft podium where NBA commissioner Adam Silver and deputy commissioner Mark Tatum will be making the picks. When each player is selected, team imagery, logos and colors will be displayed as usual. But the live reaction of the player will also be screened, which will provide them with the virtual representation of them side-by-side with the commissioner for their archives.
Some other elements for fans to know when watching the broadcast: more than 17 teams have granted live access and a behind-the-scenes look at the “war rooms” for their decision-makers. Several general managers and coaches have made themselves available for interviews after their picks.
Overall, the mission for the league was to provide players with everything they would have normally gotten in Brooklyn even though they are at home.
That means the locker filled with hats will also include gifts like a Beats Pill+ Portable Speaker, Beats Studio3 Wireless Over-Ear Headphones, Beats Flex Wireless Earphones, an Oculus 2 virtual reality headset and a personalized Spalding basketball that would have otherwise been sitting on the table at Barclay’s Center.
Myers said that moving forward the league will continue to invite prospects to the green room in Brooklyn. But they will be far more inclined to include additional players due to the tech advances that they will utilize this year.
“These players have been waiting so long for this moment,” said Myers. “It has been a long time coming and they want to experience this special night.”
The 2020 NBA Draft, Presented by State Farm begins Wednesday at 8pm/et on ESPN.