Sports Startup

Four Israelis the NBA Can’t Do Without

One Israeli startup’s technology can analyze basketball games in real time.

Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant goes up for a dunk during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Monday, Dec. 21, 2015, in Los Angeles.
AP

On an average NBA game night, the system developed by WSC Sports Technologies runs 600 rules, or preset parameters, based on specific requests from 40 different organizations. These result in an average of 500 highlight reels every night, for a total of 30,000 since the start of the league’s season, in late October. The system was developed by four Israelis from Bnei Brak over the course of three years. Last year, they had one chance to score big, when they meet the chief digital developer for the NBA.

“He hears plenty of offers every week from many companies, and he was sort of quiet through the meeting,” said Aviv Arnon, a WSC founder and the company’s vice president of business development. “But after we said that we can make clips automatically, he said ‘Hold on, you can do that? Prove it. If you can, we’re interested.’ We did a small demonstration, and it developed into a pilot. It started with ‘I don’t believe you,’ and a year later we were working with the NBA,” Arnon said.

The NBA official’s doubts were understandable. The system developed by Arnon and WSC’s CEO Daniel Shichman, Chief Technology Officer Shmulik Yoffe and Chief Operating Officer Hy Gal sounds almost too good to be true. It takes a live sports broadcast and identifies, in real time, every play — a dunk, an assist, a foul, and the like. It knows exactly which player did what and what happened, catalogues each event and groups them together into highlight reels clips of 10 second to 15 seconds each. Each play is ranked on a scale of 1 to 5 — a second-quarter hoop isn’t the same as a buzzer-beater from half-court — and everything that happens in the game becomes searchable, going into infinitesimal detail.

A demonstration of the WSC system.

Do you want a clip showing only Stephen Curry three-pointers? Lebron James’s dunks? Every point by Omri Casspi? The system keeps score, automatically, with real-time briefs. The automatic video generator technology takes nearly every parameter into account. The number of videos produced, which are available for instant distribution on nearly every prominent digital platform, grows every night.

Scouting program

“The NBA has many distributors with different demands,” Arnon said. “Currently, 18 teams are using it. And if a team wants to promote a certain rookie, so that every move he makes is on Twitter, it’s not something the league focuses on.”

Arnon say the idea started with a hobby, a scouting program they developed six or seven years ago.

“Practically all the coaches in the top league are working with it to this day,” he said. “We started working on the company as a full-time project only in 2011. We said, ‘Come on, we have to do something, a startup.’” The three friends, engineers who worked with networks, video and electronics in the army, started working, taking in Gal, a former coach and talent scout.

Daniel Shichman and Aviv Arnon with Magic Johnson.
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“When investors asked who the clients would be, we said our target is the NBA, but that that’s the holy grail — you don’t believe you’ll get there right off the bat,” Arnon said. “The investors believed we’d get there, but between saying that and the fact that it actually happened ... that’s usually not the first step.”

They’re still getting used to their success. One stage was watching the NBA Finals from Cleveland Cavaliers owner and investor Dan Gilbert’s private box. The current stage includes expanding to bigger offices in Ramat Gan, recruiting employees and carefully screening incoming calls.

“We also do college sports and soccer, but this is the most prestigious contract. We’re getting calls from other major leagues in the United States — baseball, football, hockey and soccer — and also from European leagues, like UEFA, Bundesliga, La Liga. But if until now we were ‘the guys from Israel,’ now it’s ‘We’re working with the NBA, do you want a piece too?’” Arnon said.

They’re still waiting with the exit. “We have many more goals ahead. In the end, it’s possible it will happen. But we’ll wait. We need to stay focused. When you go up, the fall can be a bit tough. Now we need to prove ourselves.”