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The Golden State Warriors are the best team in basketball.
They proved it last year — electrifying fans by winning 67 games (out of 82) and then grabbing their first National Basketball Association championship in four decades. They did it again this year by winning 73 games in the regular season, an all-time NBA record. That history-making achievement served notice: Last year was no fluke.
The success of the Warriors, who beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 104-89 last night in the first game of the finals, can partly be attributed to a five-year bet on technology. The wager has helped transform a perennial cellar dweller into an annual contender.
The team, which plays at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, was among the first in the league to install cameras that track when players touch or shoot the ball during a game. During practice, players sport wearable monitors (a labor deal prohibits their use in games) that gauge their heart rates, movement and stamina. And the team is constantly trying out new technology — including “smart” sleep masks — for potential use.
Few NBA teams have turned technology to their advantage quite like the Warriors.
“You can play on the probabilities or just stand pat,” says Kirk Lacob, an assistant general manager who oversees the team’s analytics staff and is the son of co-owner Joe Lacob. “We choose to take the risks.”
The Warriors’ transformation began in 2010, when the senior Lacob, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, and Hollywood producer Peter Guber bought the team for a then-record $450 million. The ownership change came just as basketball began experimenting with analytics the way baseball had a decade earlier.
The Warriors, along with the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks, began collecting data that stretched beyond how many points a player scored or how many rebounds he grabbed.
The team started by installing SportVU, a six-camera motion-tracking system hung from the rafters. With it, the Warriors could see and analyze every dribble and pass a player makes, along with his speed, distance between teammates and miles run in a game. Point guard Steph Curry, for example, runs about 2.4 miles during his 34 minutes on court, according to the NBA.