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Is FIBA’s New Glass Floor the Future of Basketball Court Design?

FIBA, the world governing body for international basketball, has made some waves in the past few days by unveiling a glass LED court surface for the 2023 U19 Women’s Basketball World Cup in Madrid. As you can see in the promotional video embedded above, the court’s LED capabilities allow for various graphics, patterns, animations, and — of course — advertisements to be rotated in and out at the push of a button.

Is this where basketball court design is heading? Will we soon see this type of surface installed at NBA or even NCAA arenas? And if so, what do we think about that?

A few thoughts:

  • Leaving aside the aesthetic issues, I’d be interested to know how players feel about this new court surface. Does the ball bounce differently on it? Do sneakers grip it differently? Does it offer less “give” when a player falls? Do the changing LED graphics affect performance by distracting the players?
  • Personally, I like the look of a wooden floor. There’s something organic about it that I find grounding. But I’m a 59-year-old white guy, and basketball has long been about razzle-dazzle, not organic earthiness, so I realize that my preferences here may not be in sync with the sport’s zeitgeist.
  • Similarly, I think I’d find the shifting graphics distracting. But maybe today’s younger fans, weaned on video games and TikTok, would have no problem with it.
  • I’m assuming that an electronic LED court is more expensive than a wooden one. But in the long run, it’s probably cheaper, because you can endlessly reconfigure it — no more need for separate primary, City, and throwback courts.
  • The elephant in the room, of course, is the ability to up the advertising ante. Of course, the NBA already has digital ads projected onto the court (which in at least one case has led to a team having to eliminate one of its uniforms), but an LED surface would likely lead to an advertising bonanza — ugh.

One thing’s for sure: If the NCAA goes this route, we will no longer see bacon smoked over court scraps.

Comments (47)

    I remember complains about slipiness when court decals got too big, like during March Madness in the 00s…. This seems like an injury waiting to happen

    At first glance, I actually don’t hate this. My biggest concern (as a player) would be the surface graphics changing during play — I would think that could be quite distracting. If the powers-that-be “keep” the graphics static during play (and the surface itself is close to that of a regular court), I say go for it. Like Paul, I’m probably not in the target demographic for this new court technology, and ever since the NBA added ads, I’ve watched very little pro hoops the past several years.

    I mostly agree with you.

    I wouldn’t hate it if there were game-related graphics that changed during play. If the shot clock and game clock were embedded in the floor, or if the key turned red during the last five seconds of the shot clock, or something like that. But otherwise, agree completely.

    Exactly my thoughts about this LED floor but like Paul I prefer wood. Which is a luxury in my country where we play indoor games mostly on a mix of plastic and rubber with hundreds of differently colored lines on it for volleyball, badminton, korfbal, handball. Got to keep it cheap in the Netherlands!

    If I was a player, this seems like it would horribly distracting…just the fact that it’s lit up in any way like that. The potential safety issues would also trouble me…the landings would have to be far less forgiving.

    I’d have to use it a few times to get used to it at the very least, but my initial reaction is no thanks.

    I would hope the sheer advertising potential could lure Rob Manfred from MLB to the NBA. That would open the MLB commish slot for Bob Costas, who has said he’d get rid of backstop ads (so you know he’d get along swimmingly with the owners). Win-win, let’s sign the papers.

    If Bob Costas is coming out and saying he’d prohibit a thing that makes a ton of money for his bosses (MLB owners), it is guaranteed he will never get the job. You can’t just walk into a room of billionaires and lay down the law because you’ve done play-by-play. But good thinking, Bob. Commissioners are well-paid errand boys for the owners. Rob Manfred has no more original thoughts in his head than the others.

    What about conversion to hockey? Currently, courts are removed in pieces so they can access the hockey surface. How would this work?

    This. Very much this. I would think this is a difficult floor to disassemble.

    However, I would think this would be an ideal competition surface in arenas where multiple indoor sports — volleyball, basketball, futsal, indoor field hockey, and team handball — are played. All it takes is a push of a button to change the lines.

    Also wondering one thing: is the top surface actual glass (as in made with silicone)? Or is it plexiglas or Lucite?

    I also think it would be a difficult surface to get a grip on, and you’d have to have someone like the FIBA Mop Guy to be out there all the time.

    The company I work for offers LED panels similar to these. They come in self-contained 1 meter square panels that interlock together. It’s fairly easy and quick to disassemble.

    Our newer ones also have pressure sensors on them and can have animations that follow people while they walk on it. Which I could see as really distracting during a game but also has a ton of creative potential.

    Not to mention concerts and other events where the basketball court needs to be removed.

    I feel like unless a pro or college team didn’t share their arena with another sport or had many concerts, etc., that these type of courts would be a “special event” situation (ie- All-Star Games, Final Four, maybe the Finals?).

    I do love the thought of have era appropriate renderings of throwback courts.

    As a basketball official, I’ll yell at the clouds on this one. The floor changing during play would definitely be distracting.

    Ok I mostly think this is dumb HOWEVER, I have two things I think could be good about it.
    1. The video seems to show it can be somewhat of a touchscreen, which means it has some sensors in it, and you could use those to help call of in/out and 3pts/2pts on FGs.
    2. Yes the advertising potential is scary, BUT it would mean unis like the Bucks cream ones could come back since it’s not interfering with the “green screen” ads

    Regarding #2, I do wonder if they’d still have to accommodate superimposed ads. It seems the baseball teams that have gone with LED boards on their backstops still have to go partially green screen on them for games that go to big networks or streamer so the rights holder can have immediate and/or regionalized control over ads there.

    This is amazing.
    And if the NBA does go this route I bet they would make it more interactive too, at a cost unfortunately. Like pay for your username to flash on the court when your team scores. Or swapping the designs for each quarter based on fan votes.

    I love the look and feel of a traditional wooden court. This COULD work if:
    1. Performance resembles a wood floor
    2. Limits are placed on when animations can occur, similar to when music is allowed to play
    3. Some sense of decency exists where it doesn’t become a free-for-all with ad logos everywhere.
    You could even make an 8-bit court and make it look like early EA Sports NBA OR NBA Jam.

    I actually kind of love it. I’d want the graphics static during play, but like, this has a lot of potential for fun. (I’ll acknowledge that it has a lot of potential for not-fun, too, but I’m looking on the bright side.)

    This doesn’t surprise me at all, as there is a casino craps variant called Roll to Win Craps. It is the same concept, so having this adapted to something with a floor (or walls, or ceiling, or whatever can be advertised on) makes sense.

    (Wholly unrelated to basketball, the surface of the Roll to Win Craps game allows for cheating because dice can be slid across the table, and therefore Roll to Win is becoming more and more scarce. The point of which is that as Paul and other commenters have suggested, the integrity of the actual playing surface is probably the biggest concern with a basketball floor).

    I’m not a basketball player, but spent a lot of my life covering the sport. Every player I’ve talked to about courts has a feel that non-high level players would never have. They quickly notice and comment on court inconsistencies and issues that the untrained eye wouldn’t. The way give and feel of the wood is described by players is different – they know what a “good” surface is supposed to feel like. I’d love to know what the feedback is on this court, and I imagine the highest levels (i.e. NBA, hopefully WNBA) would continue using a wood court into the future, the same way genuine leather balls are still used in the NBA.

    Having a backlit floor seems like an underdiscussed issue. Even if the floor was completely static, had no ads, and the pattern was identical to a normal court, the court would glow, the players would appear darker (being backlit), and there’d no longer be any shadows on the court.

    “But I’m a 59-year-old white guy, and basketball has long been about razzle-dazzle”

    Paul, I hate this type of reasoning. As if age and race are the only determining factors in someone’s interests. Family, friends, occupation, income, geography, religion, and many other categories are just as important. I remember a time when you corrected people for prefacing or concluding their comments on this site with, “Get off my lawn.”

    I understand your point.

    But: I dislike “Get off my lawn” because it’s essentially an insult (even if a self-directed one). In this case, I’m not saying that my opinion is any less valid than a younger person’s; I’m just acknowledging that my point of view might be *different* from that of a younger basketball fan, especially since this sport has been cultivating a more contemporary, less traditional look for decades now (well, at least in the NBA).

    And race has absolutely nothing to do with it.
    You can be razzle-dazzle-y too, if you so desire.

    All the Uni Watch commenters rushing to explain to a fellow white guy that race doesn’t inform your opinions, pretty much says it all about Uni Watch.

    I have wondered for years when something like this would happen in any sport. Shouldn’t be surprised that a basketball court was first but it’s still a bit of a shock to see. My biggest concern is whether the actual lines of play (in/out of bounds, three point, free throw, etc) remain constant. Imagine finding out after the fact that a specific line changed during the game. At least now the lines can’t move but depending on the design of a digital court you may have things slightly change which could make all the difference between a make and a miss.

    I have been wondering about this for years. Why? Ever since I was a kid in the 70’s I HATED playing on a court with a million lines (basketball, volleyball, four square, and all other sports). The big advantage would be a court with no lines at all. Pick a setting and bingo…the set up for NCAA Women’s basketball is on the floor. They are done, flip a switch, and the set up for grade school volleyball is on the floor. The next game you can have the set up for Men’s Euro Handball on the floor.

    The floor can project a hardwood, a parquet floor, or whatever design. I think the multi color will fade away as the newness of the floor wears off.

    Yes, advertising might pay for some of this, but I think the advantages outweigh the distraction.

    I wonder how many pieces of glass would be on the floor (the fewer, the fewer seams so it should be more consistent with fewer seams), and then what happens when glass breaks. Do you stop play to swap out a new glass floor panel, or is it just like a bump on the blacktop at recess, just gotta know not to step or dribble there?
    That seems like a first hurdle. Then you wonder about how often and how and why you can change the graphics. Valid, but secondary to surface safety. I think I like the previously articulated principles in the comments—maybe some light up feedback in the game like a red key border for 5 seconds on the shot clock, or maybe a slight gray tint on the backcourt once the offense goes over (the backcourt violation rule), but good lord please no willy nilly advertisement changes in the middle of a play!

    I worked as the client project manager for the buildout of the Jumpman flagship store in DTLA, which included installing an ASB Glass Floor. It was the first instance of one of these being a permanent fixture stateside, and the city of LA put it through some wild testing to ensure that it would hold up long-term. While I never heard complaints about the material affecting shoe grip or the bounce of the basketball, they may have changed the material since then (this was in 2018).

    It would be near impossible to switch it out in multi-use arenas, as the entire support system underneath is an engineering PITA, especially the one in LA, which was on a rooftop and had a drainage system underneath. This has me wondering how it would work in arenas that usually have the hardwood court laid on top of the ice. Also, at that time, the LED layer wasn’t a thing. Instead, the Jumpman court featured LED court lines (also a PITA with overheating issues).

    If Daryl Dawkins were playing now, I wonder if he’d try to smash the floor.

    The first computer delay will be interesting — when a glitch causes the boundary lines or free-throw line or three-point line to disappear or be distorted. Or do those things not matter anymore?

    For me the only issues are the traction and give, which relates to injuries. I remember playing on a very tight carpeted floor, and I could change directions like Allen Iverson. However, I was worried about turning my ankle, or tearing up my knees. Also, as others have pointed out, no changing graphics during play.

    Don’t know how true this is for anyone else, but as someone who watches basketball more than other sports, there’s a certain sound and “feel” you get from watching and playing basketball—the squeak of basketball shoes across the court and the sounds of dribbling for one. I wonder how this court holds up to that.

    How long before a team moves the three-point line in an inch or two? Just for fun, of course.

    Hahaha, now that would be something! I can see it happening with big rivalries. Officials have to measure the lines before, during and after the game.

    As my Dad would say: Do we really need all this shit? I see a day where sports turn in to a Beyonce concert. Get there at 7pm. Pre game show. Pre game concert. Game starts at 10pm.

    My biggest concern for players would be the floor as a light source. (Well, my real biggest concern would be traction, but I’ll choose to assume that FIBA wouldn’t go forward with an actually too-slick surface.) Wood courts don’t emit light, they’re lit from above and reflect light. As does the ball, which itself casts mild shadows on the court which give indication as to ball height and direction. You can use various technologies to project full-color animated images onto a court, but even when you do this, the court itself is reflecting, not emitting, light. LED conversely emits light; the court itself is a light source. The video shows the brightness turned way down during play, so that there are some faint shadows of players, not so much the ball, on the court. Of course, this comes at the expense of making the colors pale and de-saturated. So either you have vibrant bright colors but the players lose their natural ability to sense height, or you restore some of the visual clues of lighting-from-above but at the expense of washed-out graphics.

    And aside from issues for the players playing on top of a giant flashlight, the absolute worst thing for a spectator is for a game to be played in the dark with a bright light source behind the players. Attend any nighttime soccer game with LED advertising boards, and players near the far-side-of-the-pitch boards become indistinguishable silhouettes. This isn’t a big issue for video cameras, which tend to zoom in and also have white balance set for the conditions better than the naked eye can do in a hurry. But fans sitting in darkened seating areas are liable to experience the silhouette for every player, all game long, with an LED floor.

    This has been designed for TV watching, obviously. I completely agree with your point of lighting and the usefulness of shadows when play is lit from above: I have seen many guys from the other team trying to set a screen on me by their shadow approaching (and my teammates too busy or too lazy to call out the screen), same for rebounding. The bounce will be different on this floor than on wood but that is a matter of time before players are used to it.

    If this thing were to break or malfunction during a game, what would they end up with? A black court with no lines or markings of any kind?

    I would think there are enough redundencies built into it that there’s little chance of that happening. Unless the entire arena were to lose power…but even then they have back up generators. Of all the possible issues with this court, I’d put a malfunction actually way down there. Not to say it will *never* happen, but there’s probably a lot of other things that would prevent its use in NBA/NCAA games besides a possible malfunction.

    To put a darker thought into it, yes, changing the ad graphics on the floor can be distracting, but who’s to say that the home team doesn’t move that 3-point line up just slightly during their half to give themselves a slight advantage?

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