NBA Meta

NBA Commissioner Introduces Metaverse Basketball Coach Prototype

The NBA previewed an AI-powered basketball coach based in the digital space of the metaverse under development at its recent All-Star Tech Summit. NBA commissioner Adam Silver unveiled “Coach Nat” (NBA Augmented Telepresence) and its computer-generated basketball moves coupled to a voice that is almost certainly Shaquille O’Neal.

Coach Nat

Silver introduced Coach Nat during a panel with tech, political and basketball leaders at the conference. O’Neal, Dikembe Mutumbo, and Barack Obama all witnessed the artificial coach “walk” onto the stage. The NBA has already begun experimenting with the metaverse thanks to Meta sponsoring ESPN and ABC game broadcasts this season. Meta’s Oculus Quest headsets are livestreaming the games for free in virtual reality from carefully placed camera arrays. The metaverse tests have even extended to the team level, with the Brooklyn Nets launching the Netaverse, a 3D virtual sports viewing arena specifically for its fans. Coach Nat is part of the NBA’s plan to leverage technology to reach more viewers and encourage kids to play and care about basketball, even if no AI or other coach will change the dismal odds of going pro.

“My role is to help coach, train, develop the next generation of NBA talent,” Coach Nat told Silver. “I know all the best moves, and I’m untethered by one single dimension. I can even make a free throw.”

O’Neal AI

The voice sounds exactly like O’Neal, and the reference to free throws, which the former player famously struggled to hit, all but confirms it. Notably, this isn’t O’Neal’s first time as the voice of an AI. He is one of the guest voice options for Alexa. His Alexa voice is largely produced by an AI model, and Nat sounds more like a recording, however. Still, if the NBA decides to synthesize O’Neal’s voice for Coach Nat, his home is already equipped with a recording studio. Amazon built it for him as the limited access to commercial studios during the pandemic meant he recorded the lines used to model his voice at home.

Nat finished off with another O’Neal reference calling itself the “real-life Superman” and levitating off the ground. The NBA hasn’t said when Coach Nat might be available for those interested, but it’s not likely to be soon. For comparison, Silver showed off a jersey capable of digitally changing its number in 2019 but projected a 2038 rollout.


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