In 2012, the Phoenix Suns became the first NBA team to integrate wireless technology into their basketball operations by using tablets powered by Verizon on the team’s bench, a breakthrough collaboration at the time.
Fast-forward eight years, and the Suns and Verizon are again taking sports tech to revolutionary levels with the debut of the world-class Verizon 5G Performance Center located at 44th and Camelback in Phoenix – a massive trade up from the practice facility that was in the basement of the Suns’ and Mercury’s downtown Phoenix arena for the past 27 years.
The 53,000 square foot basketball oasis is purposefully designed and laden with performance analytics and biometric innovation, bringing Suns general manager James Jones’ vision to life.
“This facility was designed with focus and intention,” Jones said. “My hope is to bring necessary analysis of biometric movement and basketball performance together in real-time so that our coaches and trainers can make critical evaluations in practice, during games and throughout the development of our players like never before. In short, I want us to be smarter and more efficient.”
Jones, who won three NBA championships and made seven consecutive Finals during his 14-year playing career, actively sought out the resources required to improve athletic output by holistically addressing the physical, emotional and mental needs of the player.
Thanks to the integral partnership with Verizon and the application of Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband throughout the facility, more than 150 cameras and sensors, along with 3D force plates, will fuse computer vision and motion analysis, player and ball tracking and ShotTracker - three industry-standard systems that typically operate independently. Combined, these elements form the 5G Lab within the 5G Performance Center.
“While our partnership with Verizon is not new, the genuine collaboration between our two brands to set a new bar for sports tech innovation is truly unprecedented,” added Dan Costello, Chief Revenue Officer for the Suns and Mercury.
The final product: a laboratory that will provide coaches and trainers with more information about their athletes’ biomechanics and basketball development, faster than ever before. Jones and his staff believe these tools, combined with a process-driven approach, will shape results in a way that no other NBA team can.
On the court, the data acquired could immediately help the Suns “win the margins,” as Jones puts it, by helping to cut down on missed shots, sharpen passes and utilize highly functional lineups. The extensive information will also allow coaches and staff to create personalized training regimens that maximize team and player performance. Every day, the gathered material will assist the training staff in preventing player injuries, and/or in shortening the return-to-play time.
Ultimately, the data will be integrated into every part of basketball operations’ team-building process, optimizing short- and long-term strategic decisions.
“The 5G Lab keeps the Suns and Mercury on the cutting edge,” Jones said. “Verizon’s powerful 5G technology is seamlessly incorporated throughout our facility in a way that is unprecedented in the NBA and American professional sports today. That cohesion provides our staff with unparalleled opportunities to efficiently unlock each athlete’s fullest potential.”
· Computer Vision & Motion analysis: the solution analyzes individual player movement both in the weight room and on the court, full lineup movement and how movements change with certain variables. The system can measure elements such as player limb sizes, joint reactions and how knees buckle when jumping, and can perform full-body kinematics analyses for player health and fatigue.
· 3D Force Plates offer advanced capabilities to measure and analyze a wide range of biometrics and movement patterns of athletes – including impact force, balance, acceleration/deceleration and launch and landing angles – on a three-dimensional plane. Professional training facilities typically utilize 2D force plates or motion cameras. Verizon 5G-powered technology enables harmony all under one roof.
· Player & Ball Tracking sensors for coaches to monitor current games and practices, along with previous performance history. This will make practice analysis more effective and efficient. Verizon and ShotTracker worked together to develop an entirely new, smaller sensor to fit in the ceiling of the facility.
· ShotTracker offers analysis on every shot made or missed measuring the shot arc, flight path and rim entry using a 100% optical system and provides real-time feedback as well as automated daily and weekly report for the players to improve their shooting technique.
“Working with the Phoenix Suns and Mercury to build the Verizon 5G Performance Center, a first of its kind 5G innovation lab dedicated to athlete performance, has tremendous implications for the sports industry overall,” said Brian Mecum, Vice President of Device Technology for Verizon. “With this partnership, we have created a pipeline of innovation to develop use cases around performance, training, health and wellness that will help us continue to push the boundaries of what is possible with Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband.”
Complementing this advanced technology are two side-by-side NBA/WNBA regulation basketball courts and a vast training area, featuring nearly a dozen bespoke strength and conditioning equipment pieces custom-designed by Suns Senior Director of Health and Performance Brady Howe and head strength and conditioning coach Cory Schlesinger.
Large bay doors provide easy access to an outdoor agility yard, allowing players and staff to take advantage of the Valley’s more than 300 days of sunshine per year and particularly desirable weather during the typical NBA season. A custom Hydroworx underwater treadmill, adjacent to hot and cold tubs, uses hydraulics to lower or raise the floor to adjust to a player’s height.
The locker room features a massive high-resolution LED screen to review film embedded in a black glass marker wall; white lettering on a black surface has been proven to be more appealing to the eye than black on white. The German-built lockers have a ventilation system to pull the odors from hours of sweating completely out of the building, as well as drawers large enough to accommodate up to 16 pairs of sneakers as large as Deandre Ayton’s size 18’s. The locker room setup is identical to the Suns’ newly transformed arena locker room.
The Mercury have their own dedicated locker room and training rooms on the opposite side of the facility.
Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver, who privately funded the Verizon 5G Performance Center’s $45 million design and construction, worked directly with DFDG Architecture (facility design/structure), ZGF Architects (interior design) and Suns players to create an environment that would be supportive of and responsive to day-to-day needs and preferences.
“We’ve thought through every detail of this building to give our players a state-of-the-art facility where they can work on their craft but also spend quality time together,” said Sarver, who even directed the location of the 5G Performance Center to be in close proximity to players’ homes. “Enabling that time together will help form a tightknit unit, which is integral to the culture of success that James and Monty (Williams) have created.”
While basketball is the facility’s primary focus, a multitude of sophisticated player amenities create a one-stop-shop for training, recovery and connection located in the convenient area near the iconic Camelback Mountain.
The spacious player lounge is a hub for relaxation and entertainment, highlighted by televisions with video-game systems, a barber chair and a full-service kitchen with an on-site executive chef. There are several active and quiet areas throughout the facility, including a sensory deprivation chamber and outdoor hot tub, to foster rejuvenation and longevity. Players can access the facility 24/7, allowing for flexible and unlimited usage while generating organic opportunities to build team camaraderie.
Every aspect of the sleekly designed building is intentional. Nearly all offices or indoor vantage points offer views of the courts. Sarver commissioned an extensive sun study to determine optimal natural lighting, especially while on the courts. Players and staff will go through a “touchless journey” with few doors and handles once inside the building, promoting simplicity and health.
The Verizon 5G Performance Center embodies the Suns’ commitment to driving innovation in sports technology and investing in the whole athlete. The result is a highly efficient, world-class facility designed to develop powerhouse teams for years to come.
Photography: Dustin Revella Photography
Architect: DFDG Architecture
Interior Design/Graphics: ZGF Architects