The NBA Hopes for Fewer Ankle Injuries and Stronger Officiating Thanks to Finalists in Its Launchpad Next-Gen Tech Program

NBA players are some of the top athletes in the world, which can lead to many career-changing injuries. Additionally, the referees can make or break a game.

While injuries will always happen, the NBA has created a program called NBA Launchpad that the league hopes will use technology to create better health outcomes and better officiating.

A look at the NBA Launchpad program

As the Washington Post reports, the idea behind the NBA Launchpad program is simple. The league hopes to improve with the help of the world’s smartest minds. The Launchpad program provides a “really clear pathway.”

Launchpad was conceived in 2019. But the COVID-19 pandemic put it on hiatus; there were more pressing issues for the NBA to tackle at the time.

Now, Launchpad is back, and there’s a whole process involved. It has a handful of priorities it wants to tackle with a selection committee that includes league executives, team executives, and external experts. The selection committee’s job is to sort through all of the applications that Launchpad receives from companies and startups.

Companies the committee ultimately picks get a chance to implement their product or service in the NBA as a pilot. Ultimately, this can improve the NBA as a league. It can also drive innovation in the basketball industry.

Four priorities of the NBA Launchpad program

The Warriors' Stephen Curry hurts his ankle
An ankle injury | Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

According to USA Today, Launchpad currently has four emphases. One of them involves ankle injuries, and it’s clear why this is such a priority. During any NBA season, 25% of all players will sustain an ankle injury.

Referee training is another priority for Launchpad. For example, during the 2022 Summer League, Richard Jefferson made his officiating debut. Not long after, another ref disputed one of Jefferson’s calls, which led to them having to figure out a compromise.

The last two Launchpad priorities have to do with developing basketball talent. The first aims to improve the health and wellness of youth basketball as a whole. The other aims to ensure that kids who are 15 to 18 years old and have pro potential can reach their potential.

That said, this fourth focus casts a wide net, as it seeks to develop elite talent not just for the NBA, but also for the G League and college basketball programs.

The NBA Launchpad program has chosen five finalists

Currently, five proposals have been selected. Betterguards creates a safety device described as a seatbelt for ankles. When there’s a sharp turn of the ankle, Betterguards will activate and potentially prevent the ankle from rolling over, reports the Washington Post.

As for referee training, there’s Rezzil, which uses virtual reality technology to allow refs to review footage more easily. For example, Rezzil would allow a ref to review footage from “any viewpoint” and thus, allow refs to be more confident about their calls.

The last three finalists are 3D performance tracking program Uplift, mental health app Breathwrk, and Nextiles, which involves installing movement trackers into clothing. These three products can help tackle Launchpad’s youth basketball wellness and elite basketball development priorities.

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