As a 12-year-old in 1994, Lou Amundson remembers being “super stoked” about getting the first PlayStation for Christmas. It was the one tech product he got the most excited about as a kid. He was in awe of the graphics and how futuristic the gameplay was, enjoying NBA Live and other basketball video games.
Now, 22 years later, Amundson has his own plans for a cutting-edge NBA video game, as well as an NBA fan experience, that would both incorporate virtual reality. Overall, he’s in talks with a virtual reality company about starting its sports division, which would involve different athletics.
“I’ve always enjoyed thinking about, first, how to make things better—like whatever product it is, taking that product and how can it be improved, whether it’s a better user experience or better functionality, or whatever it may be,” the nine-year NBA veteran told the NBPA. “Also, I like thinking about trends and how they’re going to play out in the future, and anticipate those things.”
Amundson is currently exploring the development of an NBA virtual reality video game, where, as he describes it, “you can actually interact within the NBA player’s world and have a real life-like interaction with the player.” The NBA fan experience he’d like to create is a concept that can be described as social media meets virtual reality, where instead of just seeing a photo of a player somewhere, you can actually feel as though you’re there as him. For starters, he would experiment with granting access to himself.
“I get asked all the time, ‘What is it like to be an NBA player?'” he said. “So I thought it would be interesting to actually show people, like put them in my shoes, put them in an NBA player’s shoes, and they’d get to experience more or less what it’s like to be an NBA player. It can be a powerful experience to actually show them and be there in that experience. And people love authentic content; people love stuff that they know is like a voyeuristic view into someone else’s life.”
At this point, Amundson is still learning more about the hardware technology that would be needed to pull off his project ideas. “Stuff in VR takes time to write code,” he said. “But we’re definitely on that path right now.”
That path took a key turn when Amundson attended the NBPA’s first-ever Tech Summit last month in San Francisco, which included current NBA players Rasual Butler, Pat Connaughton, Andre Iguodala, Thomas Robinson and Dorell Wright, and former players Jack McClinton, Jim McIlvaine, John Salmons and Mustafa Shakur.
“I had a really great experience, definitely got quite a bit out of it,” Amundson said of the three-day event. “I’ve always been interested in tech—consumer tech, especially—and the startup scene and venture capital. So it was very interesting to hear from a first-person perspective of what it’s like to be in that industry, and also hear from startup entrepreneurs on what their strategy is in such a saturated market now. It was a great opportunity to meet all the movers and shakers here in Silicon Valley.”
Along with the group, Amundson sat in on presentations or went on site visits involving well-regarded technology companies, which included Andreessen Horowitz, Jawbone, Sherpa Capital, STRIVR, SV Angel and Twitter. Also, league MVP Stephen Curry spoke on a panel about his interests in mobile apps CoachUp and Slyce.
A popular topic across the program was virtual reality.
“It was mentioned a lot pretty much by everybody who spoke,” Amundson said. “That’s the next really big industry. It’s interesting to see how the technology gets interwoven into the culture of basketball and the NBA, and the increased popularity of the NBA across the world. It’s going to really open a lot of doors for new fans and for younger generations, so it’s interesting to see how that happens.”
The most pertinent part of the Tech Summit for Amundson, related to his current endeavors, was visiting STRIVR labs in Menlo Park, Calif. There, the 33-year-old saw first-hand how the company is using virtual reality for player performance enhancement.
A big discussion point was football. STRIVR demonstrated how it uses a tripod-routed camera in the area of the quarterback’s positioning, and then it records the action. Afterwards, the quarterback can step into his own shoes to relive the different plays and refine his reads as if he’s actually on the field.
“It’s like an advanced visualization technique, where you’re actually tricking the brain into believing that you’re making a pass,” Amundson said. “So I think that’s very fascinating to see how that progresses, and how we’ll be able to shape our performance and our ability through tricking the brain with certain things like VR.”
Amundson pointed out that virtual reality as a coaching tool in basketball is still a work in progress, taking into consideration the constant player movement on the court. For example, the point guard doesn’t have a certain spot when setting up the offense. Whereas in football, the quarterback starts at the line of scrimmage the same way and drops back with usually a set number of steps.
“It’s like helmet cam,” he said. “A lot of that stuff you can just do on a two-dimensional screen, but when you put the goggles on, it’s so much more immersive in a 3D environment that it really makes you feel like you’re there. The idea is that it will be more of a powerful learning experience or training experience than a two-dimensional screen. The technology is still very early on in basketball, and it will get better.”
During the Tech Summit, a big takeaway for Amundson was learning about how dense the tech market has become. He was encouraged to see his peers take a hands-on approach to tech and educate themselves about the industry. He said players need to be more discerning when it comes to tech opportunities because of the abundance of them. In fact, when he was at the gym one day working out while on a break during the Tech Summit, a random person pitched him on an app.
“It’s just the sign of the times,” said Amundson, who’s also involved with Uber and Palantir. “Everyone is aware of how much money and how much opportunity is in tech now, so everyone’s trying to get on that bandwagon, trying to capitalize, trying to do something. So as a result, it’s good on one side, but it’s a lot harder to find winners.”
A close business mentor for Amundson has been Iguodala, his former Sixers teammate when he was a rookie in 2007. Iguodala, an NBPA Executive Committee member, worked with the players’ union to establish the inaugural Tech Summit.
“He’s doing a really great job,” Amundson said. “He’s had a tremendous opportunity at the right time to be exposed to Silicon Valley there, [while with the Warriors], and he’s taking advantage of it. He’s a great guy and I’m planning on relying on him as a contact going forward.”
Overall, the Tech Summit had a lasting impact on Amundson, as he continues forward in a unique entrepreneurial lane.
“It really got my creativity going,” he said. “And it inspired me to start thinking of ways to use these connections and to use this platform that we have in a successful way.”
Here’s our video feature inside the Tech Summit: