Behind the Scenes of the Virtual NBA Draft

Things will look a bit different this year for the NBA draft broadcast. Here is how the league and its television partners are preparing to showcase the event virtually.
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Last Friday, Carlton Myers celebrated his 25th anniversary working at the NBA. He began his tenure by logging game footage. Now, as the vice president of live production and entertainment at NBA Entertainment, he is helping to lead the league’s virtual 2020 draft broadcast.

“I could have never imaged that,” says Myers, when asked whether he thought he’d ever be quarterbacking a virtual event of this magnitude.

For the first time since 2013, the NBA draft will not commence from Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Instead, on Wednesday evening, it will consist of a virtual telecast with prospective draftees waiting anxiously from their respective homes.

To adjust to the unique circumstances, the NBA has set up 19 satellite trucks, in five different countries, which will help ensure immediate interviews with participants. It’s also shipped out 39 broadcast technology kits to prospects that will be used to showcase the reactions of many of the event’s other draftees. As part of the at-home experience, players additionally received a media technology kit to help with postdraft interviews and a gift locker that includes a number of products, including all 30 of this year’s New Era draft hats.

“We're in the virtual world now so we’re able to ‘invite’ a lot more draftees to the broadcast than we had done before,” says Myers, who himself will be one of the few people in ESPN’s studios. He recently led the in-arena sound and entertainment production in the NBA’s Disney bubble.

Ahead of the draft, Sports Illustrated spoke with Myers about what the broadcast will be like, how it will compare with other recent virtual drafts and how the league’s bubble might have shaped Wednesday’s event.

The following conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

SI: What can viewers expect the NBA draft broadcast to be like?

Carlton Myers: They can expect to see more draft prospects than ever before being involved with the draft. We’re in the virtual world now so we’re able to ‘invite’ a lot more draftees to the broadcast than we had done before. Last year, I think we had 24 invitees at Barclays Center. This year we’ll have up to 58 draftees as part of the broadcast, so that will be the most we’ve ever had at one time. The fact that we’re virtual this year actually opens it up to more players being involved.

Seeing reactions from the players is one thing that we really focused on from the technical side, making sure to get that genuine reaction immediately after [commissioner Adam Silver] or [deputy commissioner Mark Tatum] announce their name. That’s something they can look forward to. And then one of the greatest interests from us and ESPN has been for us to tell these guys’ stories. A lot of these players were robbed of being able to tell their stories on national television with the tournament being canceled last year. So through the broadcast we’ll be able to let everybody know who these guys are—really understand the players, not only as basketball players, but as people.

SI: How would you compare what you hope Wednesday’s experience will be like with the most recent WNBA draft and NFL draft?

CM: We did the WNBA draft and that was the first, real virtual sporting event that took place during the pandemic. I think we did a pretty good job accomplishing that. I think it’ll be similar in some ways to the WNBA draft, in getting the players’ live reactions, that’s something we really focused on. But one of the biggest differences is that Adam Silver and Mark Tatum will be in Bristol at the ESPN studios.

It’s gonna look a lot more modernized because [WNBA commissioner] Cathy Engelbert was at her home. But now we’re able to have Adam and Mark go to ESPN. There’s going to be a large-scale video screen that’s behind them that will show graphics related to each of the teams. Once a player’s announced you’ll see the player live from their living room on that screen and with Adam in the same picture. That way we can really get the relationship moment between the two of them.

SI: When did you start the planning process on the virtual draft?

CM: When the pandemic hit, obviously no one knew where we were gonna be at this time. Originally the draft was not planned to be virtual. We had about three or four different versions of the draft that we were ready to execute: one virtual, one full fans, one partial fans and players still traveling. As we got through the bubble and finished the season, everybody had the understanding that this draft was gonna be virtual, so we went back to the beginning of the virtual model that we started planning back in June and kind of fleshed it out with ESPN and came to the point we’re at now. So it kind of evolved. If we would have had the ability to bring players across the country and everybody be together safely, we would have done that. But obviously given the situation we’re not able to.

SI: What’s the biggest thing you think you’ve learned since June?

CM: As a general rule, one thing we learned in the bubble is to try and make things as comfortable and normal for the players, to try and put them in a comfort zone. A lot of things we did in the bubble were done to give them the similar experience to what they are used to. So that’s kinda hard to apply in this draft situation, but I think doing things like sending them all 30 hats and sending them the gifts they would have received if they were on site will help.

We’re also going to do a draft class photo, which is something they would have done on stage with Adam Silver had they been in person. We’ve given them the ability to submit us photos of them in their suits, and we’re gonna stitch that all together and produce a draft class photo for these guys.

SI: During the NFL draft one of the unique quirks for viewers was getting a glimpse into various coaches’ homes and lives, like seeing Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s dog making a cameo at his table. Will we learn if any coaches have any dogs or get any similar cameos? Where will team executives be?

CM: Right now, we think they’ll all be in their war rooms or in their practice facilities, and we haven’t had the request to do big things from home. We would have done this anyway probably at a lower number, but we’ll have more than 17 team war rooms online as well, so we’ll be able to do live look-ins to team war rooms and interviews with team personnel during the draft. They’ll also be a couple of NBA coaches that will be incorporated in the draft and some college coaches as well, and we think some of them will be in their homes.

SI: What will a successful draft broadcast look like in your mind?

CM: If we can get the immediate the reaction of players and viewers can see that, that to me is one of the most important pieces of it and it is usually one of the best moments of the draft. I think that was missing at some of the other drafts that we’ve done or it wasn’t consistent. We want to do everything possible to keep that consistent. So I think having that moment happen for the majority of the guys will be a success for us.