I flew to Los Angeles with the full expectation that I’d be part of a select group of people around the world who would be witnesses to some of Nike’s most innovative breakthroughs yet. I understood that it was basketball-related (what with us being SLAM and all), and that the NBA partnership would be mentioned. In the 2017 era of blogs and whispers and not-so-secret industry secrets, I also came across the information that the brand new jerseys for the league was going to be loaded with tech.
All this I knew.
And yet none of it prepared me for what I was about to tap into.
Official proceedings began with myself and maybe fifteen other people, in a quiet, almost tough-to-find conference room in the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown LA. Our partners at SLAM US were there, YouTube superstar Jaques Slade, our friends from Bleacher Report, it was a small gathering, we all fit around one regular-sized table. Dennis Scott of the Shaq-and-Penny Magic was right beside me cracking jokes. He was hilarious. I made a joke too, he didn’t laugh. That’s not the point.
At the head of the table, facilitating this sneak peak into the NBA’s future, literally and figuratively, was Nike’s Vice President for Digital Innovation, Stefan Olander. He had an iPhone in hand, and a Kevin Durant Warriors Icon jersey sprawled across the table in front of all of us. He was about to show us how to connect to the game, our favorite teams and players, in a way never before imagined.
“It’s crazy,” I told him after the session. “What used to be the most ignored part of the jersey has now become the most important.” That once-overlooked element of the swingman, is the part that’s never changed. The sleeves are slimmer now than ever, the stitching is near untraceable, the colors and material have all evolved in the last couple of decades of NBA jersey-making. The jock tag however , the little patch at the bottom that says your size and has the brand? That is now where tomorrow resides.
At the rightmost part of the tag is the NikeConnect logo. Underneath that, there is a tiny microchip that will take you, with a tap of your smartphone, from Manila to the Oracle Arena tunnel as KD and his Warriors warm up for any given gameday. Utilizing NFC (Near-field Communication) technology, the same tech that is behind Apple Pay, Nike is now providing an opportunity for fans to “tap in” to a treasure chest full of exclusive content relevant to their favorite players, their teams, and the games they’re playing – all at real time.
Here’s how it works. As a Nike + member, you all but have to touch your phone lightly on the chip and it will – if it’s your first time doing it – open a “central” landing page specific to the team whose jersey you have. It will even have that specific player saying what’s up to you to welcome you to the experience. At the top, you’ll get either a countdown to the next time they play, specific down to the second until tip-off, or get this, a live, updating tracker of the ongoing game’s score and how your player is performing.
Below that, the experience expands and offers you a selection of gifs and recap videos that are, again, all from the specific ongoing game action. From pre-game handshakes, to highlight dunks, to dagger threes. They’ll all be there, ready for you to choose from, all shareable through your social media accounts.
If you’re big on NBA Twitter, this changes everything about how you comment on the live game, and your second-screen enjoyment of it, not to mention your likeliness to be RT’d by others. Now you don’t have to wait until the TV broadcast replays a play for you to take a grainy video off your TV. Now you won’t have to be tweeting out someone else’s video or gif after they’ve already made the joke you wanted to make. Gone are the days when you had to Google “Kevin Durant dunk vs Clippers”and dig through pages and pages of KD yamming on the Clips to find today’s latest jam. Now you have all that material at your disposal, in the format most relevant to your audience.
Introducing the Nike @NBA Connected Jersey.
— Nike (@Nike) September 16, 2017
The more you tap in on game days, the more you get. And they don’t mean just content. You literally get more stuff. Rewards include for example tickets to the games if ever you’re in the US, early access to exclusive team-themed footwear (shoutout all my sneakerheads), NBA 2K18 boosts, even your favorite player’s specific pre-game Spotify playlist on the day you tapped in and he got a triple-double.
Needless to say, NikeConnect is going to bring us closer to the players, the teams, and the NBA than ever before. Needless to say, a ridiculous amount of NBA content is about to come at us like a wave. Needless to say, as all this was being shared by Stefan, there were more than just a couple of questions we had to ask. Here are the ones I know you’re asking right now.
Q: Is the chip waterproof? (You KNOW this was my first question. Filipino moms ain’t having no jerseys with special washing instructions.)
A: Yes. Wash it. Tumble dry it. Iron it like you would any other shirt. That chip is gonna be fine.
Q: Can you only link one jersey to your account?
A: Nope. Is your team trusting the process, and you’re now without gamedays come Playoff time? No problem. Whether it’s one jersey or 25 jerseys, the more you build that collection, the more content you’ll have access to. Just tap away.
Q: What if my player gets traded midseason?
A: You can still continue to tap and get team-related content relevant to his former team.
Q: My favorite player is injured, not getting a lot of playing time, or is a Spur getting his usual, scheduled Pop-ordered DNP. Should I still tap in?
A: Totally. Team info and highlights will still be made available, and you will still be made eligible to receive the same kind of rewards.
Q: Is this exclusive to Nike athletes only?
A: Nope. Every player must be treated equally. Every player’s stats, highlights and info will be made available to their fans who own their jerseys.
Q: Do all jerseys come with the NikeConnect feature?
A: Both Swingman and Authentic jerseys are NikeConnect-ready. Only the Kids’ jerseys are without the chip.
Q: What about throwback jerseys?
A: There will be exciting content coming for throwback jerseys as well, yes.
Dennis Scott: That’s what I’m talking about! (No seriously, these questions and answers are presented on this article pretty much verbatim. So yeah, 3D is as awesome as you think he is)
It was an intense half-hour or so, sitting there in the plainest of rooms, with an innocent-looking jersey being the only thing on the table, yet knowing that with a tap, it unlocked a world so vast and so dynamic that it literally now changes the way we consume NBA basketball. I took some photos, small-talked Dennis Scott a little bit about those Orlando pinstripes and his favorite SLAM cover, and eventually was on my way.
“The show later tonight should be very exciting. You guys obviously now know the NikeConnect part of the surprise, but we hope you still enjoy tonight!” Stefan sent us off with a wave of his KD-jersey-connected phone and the most surreal why-am-I-in-this-room-with-all-these-people afternoon of my life was done.
I thought that was it. Maybe a fancy unveiling later in the evening, another demo of the process, an NBA star maybe if we’re lucky. Nope. Not even close.
We got on buses and made our way over to Sony Pictures Studios, in a massive sound stage, right next to the one where they were filming the show Shark Tank. No seriously. Here we were celebrating the launch of a technological innovation that’s simple in concept yet massive in effect, right next to where inventors and innovators were trying to do the same – in front of an NBA owner. It was too good to be true.
And man, so was the show.
You know by know through social media that the giant screens were moving all over the place, like those staircases in Harry Potter. You know by know that none of us knew what was happening next, or where it was going to happen. Squirming your way to the “front” of the stage was useless, because the “front” was sometimes behind you, or beside you. It was a full 360-degree multi-sensorial experience that was exhilarating to take in.
AND THEN TRAVIS SCOTT CAME OUT ON A MOVING STAGE AND I LOST IT.
Not to mention, every NBA team was represented by one of their players. That’s 30 NBA players: from All-Stars, to Olympians, from Champions, to up-and-comers, from unicorns, to JJ Barea. All of them walked out hooded and booted in their new Nike Therma Flex Showtime Warm-up jackets, with their teams’ Statement jerseys underneath.
The jersey, as we’ve talked about, is a piece of technological achievement, and that’s even without talking about the Connect feature. From the dimensional texturized yarn made to create the knit fabric, to the league’s slimmest jersey cut ever, everything was taken into account to create the new kits. Airflow, range of motion, weight down to the last milligram, all these factored in together with thousands of athlete testings to come up with the most player-friendly, performance-conducive, jersey that was functional and fashionable for everyone in the league, vet or rook. The new chassis also made it possible for teams to incorporate their classic looks (whattup Celtics and Bulls) or their new identities (holla at us, Wolves and Pacers).
As for the new warm-ups? Kurt Parker, Nike’s VP of Apparel Design, took some time to explain to me and a few other media members who huddled around him, the thinking behind the hood. “Over the years, the NBA bench has looked messier and messier. You see players with different shirts on, with towels on their heads, often not wearing the warmers themselves.” While the towel on the head is meant to keep body warmth in, mobility and comfort were being sacrificed with the older long-sleeved shirts or jackets. To remedy this, Nike added a hood to the zip-up. But it’s not just any hood.
The mesh on the side acts as vents to prevent overheating, and also to allow players to hear their coaches and teammates even with the hood up. The opening is carved in such a way around the eyes that peripheral vision isn’t affected. All this with a brand-new Therma Flex fabric that stretches in every way, allowing the athlete maximum uninterrupted motion, and seams that are intentionally placed in a different spot from that of the jerseys so that no two seam lines fall over each other to create unnecessary discomfort.
In total, Nike has changed the how the NBA player, and the NBA product (both on-court and in-store) looks. When I asked Kurt if this technology would eventually make its way to Gilas jerseys the way we saw with the old Nike Vapor uniforms, he said that that’s “definitely the direction we want to take, and make this available to the other NCAA and National Teams we support, especially moving towards the Tokyo Olympics.”
In later posts here on the site and on our social media channels, you’ll see our interviews with the NBA stars present such as Mike Conley Jr., Julius Randle and Paul George just to name a few. They’ll talk about the new tech in the uniforms, they’ll talk about their upcoming sneaker choices for the season, and someone will talk about taking a step back to a teammate who’s “The King. I can be the Prince.” (Shoutout, PG)
As for now, that’s a not-so-quick recap of Day 1 here at LA where if you can’t tell by now, it’s pretty damn impressive. Here are a few other key takeaways I’ll just put down in list form for you guys to munch on:
- Mike Conley Jr. might just be the nicest person ever
- Ben Simmons is going to be a seven-footer sooner or later. That dude huge
- The Volt-colored Wolves uniforms were the most talked-about among the NBA players
- JR Smith was there and yes, he is absolutely as cool as you’ve imagined him to be. Shoutout Earl Jr, you the best
- The Blazers’ Statement jerseys are low-key the hottest ones in the league. Portland bias alive and kicking, Nike!
- Travis Scott is La Flame for a reason. He’s top five don’t @ me.
Selected photos from Nike.com, product photos by the author