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Hoop fans need nothin’ but Net

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If you live in a corner of the world where you can't get Jazz/Bulls series on TV, or if you have the game on the tube but want more, you need nothin' but net, to borrow the jargon Michael Jordan and Larry Bird made famous, to get inside the Delta Center.

Internet, that is, thanks to an NBA-run Web site designed to make sure the league draws as many fans as possible into the series.Point your Web browser in the direction of (www.nba.com), and you'll find audio broadcasts of the game in English and Spanish, real-time box scores and enough trivia to fill two weeks worth of timeouts. You can even put in your two bits as to who will win the series - and in how many games.

And for the first time in an NBA Finals series, NBA.com will have robotic cameras inside the arena that can be controlled by Web users.

Want to see who's sitting in the seats behind the Jazz bench? Click on a panoramic picture of the inside of the arena and zoom in. Did somebody at work brag about having tickets good enough to be within heckling distance of the Bulls bench? Snap your own picture and hunt him down. Are fans still using those skinny white balloons as weapons of mass distraction when the Bulls are at the line? Click, zoom, click. The picture's yours.

NBA.com has positioned eight tiny cameras just above and behind the bank of network television cameras in the arena and plans to do the same in the United Center when the series moves to Chicago. A ninth camera provides the panoramic view of the arena. The NBA is calling the robotic camera setup "NBA.cam."

"They're broadcasting the game just like NBC does, but it's just for NBA.com," said Mike Bass, communications director for NBA Entertainment Inc.

The idea was tested during the midseason All-Star series when NBA.com put two robotic cameras in the arena. They were a hit with fans, Bass said. "It gave them a courtside seat without being at the game."

If the fans liked two cameras, it's likely an underestimate to say they'll like eight cameras four times as much. Just how well the cameras perform will depend on the number of Web users figuratively in line to use them.

If a camera is idle, a fan can control it directly to get the view he or she wants. If the cameras are busy with Web fans queuing up to use them, the technology controlling the system will return a picture another fan may have selected a few seconds to a few minutes earlier that is a close match, said Michael Halleen, new media producer for Perceptual Robotics Inc., the Chicago-based firm that designed the camera system.

NBA.com's Daria Debuono calls the Web cameras a good complement to game broadcasts. "It's not live, streaming video" like television provides. "It's not going to drag people away from their TVs."

But the cameras give fans without television access to the game a unique way to get inside the arena. In a way, Web users become the producers of their own coverage by deciding what pictures to take and when, she said.

Web cameras will be on from pre-game through post-game activities but will be shut down during off hours and when teams are practicing. A separate camera system will give views of the coach-and-player interview room after each game.

"During off hours, we'll put together something culled from previous content - a time-lapse movie or gallery of best shots we've seen users take," Debuono said.