Clippers plan augmented reality ‘Kids Cast’ of playoff game

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Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers drives the basket against Willie Cauley-Stein #33 of the Dallas Mavericks in the first half of game two of the Western Conference First Round NBA Playoff basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, May 25, 2021. (Keith Birmingham/Pasadena Star-News via AP)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The LA Clippers game against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday not only carries big stakes in respect to the Western Conference playoff series. It will also set a milestone when it comes to alternate sports broadcasts.

The contest will be the first-ever augmented reality broadcast of a live event on a regional sports network. Bally Sports West will present the “Clippers Kids Cast,” while the regular broadcast will air on Bally Sports SoCal.

Gillian Zucker, the Clippers president of business operations, said the franchise has wanted to do an alternate broadcast for a while, and Wednesday’s game offered the best opportunity because both Bally channels in Southern California were available.

TNT and ESPN also take over exclusive coverage of the playoffs beginning with the second round. Dallas and LA are tied at two games apiece in their best-of-seven series going into Wednesday.

“A lot of stars had to align to make this possible for us to try this season in terms of channel availability, production and announcers,” Zucker said. “I think they see a real opportunity to test the technology for broadcasts that could appeal to other personalized experiences.”

The Clippers have been presenting an AR broadcast for three seasons with their “Clippers CourtVision” platform. That feed has been available to subscribers via the Fox Sports app until this past April, when the regional sports networks were rebranded as Bally Sports.

Zucker said the technology behind “Clippers CourtVision” and refining it to where there is not a lot of lag time with graphics have got them to this point.

The technology for CourtVision was created by Second Spectrum, which includes Clippers owner Steve Ballmer as one of its investors. Second Spectrum’s technology was also used by ESPN during its “Marvel’s Arena of Heroes” presentation of an NBA game in April between the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans.

Viewers of Wednesday’s broadcast can expect to see player-specific animations such as Kawhi Leonard hitting a 3-pointer from Moreno Valley, Paul George fishing or lightning bolts and logos for big plays. Instead of an animator adding those touches, the graphics will be applied real time via machine learning.

The broadcast will be similar to the “Mascot Mode” option that is available on CourtVision.

Noah Eagle, the radio voice of the Clippers, will be the announcer for the Kids Cast. Eagle also was part of Nickelodeon’s NFL Playoff broadcast earlier this year between the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints.

“I think that the biggest lesson that anybody took away from that game was sports are supposed to be fun,” he said. “It’s just shifted my mindset in general, not just for these kids casts, but when I’m doing a normal game. Are there other moments that we can keep lighthearted before it gets to the nitty gritty of a fourth quarter when your team’s down three and need a bucket?”

Former Clipper Corey Maggette and 10-year-old Pepper Persley will be the analysts. Persley hosts a bi-weekly women’s basketball podcast, “She Got Next with Pepper Persley,” and flew in from New York on Tuesday. Zucker first met Persley via Zoom last month during a panel on equity, girls and sports.

Persley, who has the poise of a veteran reporter when interviewing WNBA players, did admit that she is a little nervous because this is a playoff game.

“The best advice I have received is to be myself and bring my energy,” she said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to get kids more involved in basketball and the NBA.”

Zucker said plans are in the works in upcoming season for other specialty-themed broadcasts that might be more analytics based.

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