After Playoff Cliffhanger, ESPN Is Set for NBA Finals

For the second consecutive year, the odds-on-favorite Miami Heat were pushed to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals on their trek to the NBA Finals. While the seven-game series with the Indiana Pacers made for plenty of drama for fans, it once again created headaches for the ESPN remote-production operations team in charge of allocated trucks and other facilities for the massive productions of the first two NBA Finals games.

“From a logistics point of view, it was extremely difficult to determine where we were going to be,” says Wendell Grigely, coordinating director, remote production operations, ESPN. “We were hedging our bets on Miami, but, after [the Pacers victory in] Game 6, anything could have happened. But the key thing is positioning your equipment and personnel so you can get there with enough time to get set up for a huge production like this. It takes quite a long time to get a show this big set up.”

Off to Miami: Games 1 and 2
Grigely and his team positioned the four mobile units allotted for Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals halfway between Miami and Indianapolis and immediately dispatched all four trucks to Miami upon the Heat’s victory Monday night. NEP SS25 (A, B, and C units) and a 42-ft. expando truck from Lyon Video (one of two trucks serving Longhorn Network during the college sports season) dedicated to ESPN’s on-site studio shows (NBA Countdown pregame, halftime show, SportsCenter segments, and First Take) are now up and running at American Airlines Arena in Miami.

In addition to all that, ESPN is providing camera feeds to three additional mobile units for NBA Entertainment (world feed and backhaul) and NBATV, as well as supplying coverage to the network’s international outlets in Latin America, Brazil, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and Australia and New Zealand. In all, ESPN has seven outbound transmission lines and four inbound.

An operation of this size, of course, requires a substantial EVS infrastructure, and ESPN has deployed just that. ESPN has a total of 18 EVS replay servers and a SpotBox at its disposal for game coverage, as well as three more for the Countdown studio production.

“We are also networking the NBA and world feeds on our network, so, when it is all said and done, we are building an EVS infrastructure of 28 systems,” says Grigely. “It’s an awfully big compound, as you can imagine.”

Ready in Texas: Games 3, 4, and 5
Meanwhile, in San Antonio, preparations are under way for Games 3-5, with NEP SS22 (A, B, and C units), NEP Super B, and a Lyon Video truck (the other Longhorn Network truck) already on hand for the Spurs-Heat series.

“We have had a little bit of an advantage in that the Spurs won in four [games], so we left some equipment in place in San Antonio,” says Grigely. “We already have some people in San Antonio getting things started. After Game 1, we will have a go-ahead crew, which consists of some key audio and video technical people that will head to San Antonio.”

On the Court and in the Locker Room
ESPN will deploy at total of 36 cameras during the Finals, including a Skycam aerial system at both venues, six 3X super-slo-mos (a mix of Sony HDC3300 and Grass Valley LDK 8300 units), two floating Gore cameras to capture unique angles around the arena, Camera Corps Q-Ball robotics on the stanchion of each basket (just below the elbow), and several robotic cameras from Fletcher, including in the hallways leading to both locker rooms.

In addition, for the second consecutive NBA Finals, both baskets will be outfitted with split-block I-MOVIX ultra-slo-mo cameras shooting through the glass of the backboard to capture the action in the paint.

“It has become one of the signature items,” Grigely says of the I-MOVIX cameras. “We started them last year at Finals, and we’ve used them a few times since. It’s created a shot that we can get a lot of mileage out of. It creates a very clear, close-up shot of the action around the rim. You see the faces, the hands colliding, the bodies banging. It’s a very unique angle that isn’t seen a whole lot the rest of the year.”

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