Imagine, if you will, March Madness in the not-too-distant future, a time when the gap between court and classroom has closed, when academics and athletics have unified to create a more perfect sport, when everything we know about computing and competing have combined to transform the game.
Long after the likes of John Calipari, Roy Williams, and Mike Krzyzewski have left the game, when once-formidable teams like Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, and Kansas can merely aspire to make the Final Four or snare a National Championship, what will March Madness look like?
Won't you take a moment to glimpse one possible future with me. (Warning: Stepping into the future with me will not make it any easier to fill out your bracket for this year.)
In the future, the rules of the game will have changed little, but the competitors, that may be a very different story. Athleticism and talent are still the focus, but the game is being played on another level.
With our advancing technology, it is inevitable that colleges and universities will compete in the annual National Championship tournament with a minimum of human presence on the court.
Imagine, if you will!
The best and brightest colleges and universities will build championship basketball teams in the science lab. Presumably, the “National Champion” of the future will most likely be a composite of biometric, STEM, 3D, robotic, drone, avatar and AI capabilities. (Let's call these future ballers “RD3Is” for short, since we're pretty sure that's what they'd call them in Star Wars.)
The RD3Is on the court will reflect the same attitude, showmanship, and athletic dominance of their human predecessors and can even be programmed, through artificial intelligence, to converse meaningfully with reporters after the game.
Imagine an RD3I athlete so advanced that it will seem human to future generations. These athletes will still have to be taught the finer points of the game and trained to be the best. They will have be built by human hands. They will be challenged by RD3Is from other schools, which means they too, will commit turnovers and miss shots.
The true distinction, then, will be how effectively colleges and universities advance in their science, robotics and biometric programs. The development of new tchnolgoies, rather than the recruitment of singular talents, will prefigure improved odds of winning a National Championship.
The coaches will be much like the coaches you see today, though perhaps slightly more scientific in their strategic approach to the game. They will have to work with the talent they have been given, and continually reprogram them or “coach them up” to compete against various opponents.
Scouting the opposing team will be just as crucial as it is today. Knowing the strategic orientation of an opponent, and exploiting its weaknesses, will still be a factor. When the coach says, “I want to know, what they eat, what they drink, what time they go to the bathroom,” what he might actually mean is, “Hack into their computers and see what they are planning to use against us!”
You will still have your longshots, your upsets, and your Cinderella Stories. A tiny school that might not have the same technological resources as a leading technical institute could stumble on an equalizing discovery, the kind that allows a #16 seed to unseat a #1.
The traditional human athletes of the future will still be exceptional. But they will merely be models for RD3Is (very expensive lab rats, if you will), chosen by their respective schools to be covered with sensors, tracked, and trained to excel. Consequently, their greatest virtues will be given to RD3I, with movements enhanced, human error eliminated, and susceptibility to injury banished to history. Naturally, RD3Is will be virtually un-guardable by the human athlete.
Okay, so it probably won't happen in our lifetime. But, what if…
And if so, how will this affect the NBA?