As NBA teams use increased technology to track players on and off the court, the players' union wants to ensure that privacy is still being protected.
Franchises have been scrutinizing player movement on the court since the 2012-13 season, but data collection has also recently extended beyond the hardwood. Various teams have begun experimenting with sleep trackers, off-court movement monitors and fluid tests -- including blood and sweat -- in order to improve player health and performance.
These developments have happened so quickly and quietly, however, that the National Basketball Players Association was not aware of these widespread biometric advances, and had not established a position on the issue, until ESPN The Magazine approached the union for comment in August.
"If the league and teams want to discuss potentially invasive testing procedures that relate to performance, they're free to start that dialogue and we'll be glad to weigh the benefits against the risks," longtime NBPA counsel Ron Klempner said. "Obviously, we'd have serious privacy and other fairness concerns on behalf of the players. We've barely left the starting line on these issues."
As of now, no formal complaints have been filed to the NBPA, said Klempner, who served as interim executive director from February 2013 to September 2014. But given the latest technological progressions, Klempner said the union intends to put biometric testing on the table for the next collective bargaining agreement discussions, which can arrive as soon as 2017 when the league or its players can opt out of the current 10-year agreement signed in 2011.
It is customary for NBA players to have blood drawn as part of a standard physical exam, but that is different than what some teams are using to test performance. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told ESPN The Magazine that his team oversees periodic blood analysis, although he would not elaborate further on the methodology or frequency of the tests.
"I think the smartest thing we do for health from a data perspective," said Cuban, "is take ongoing assessments and even blood tests so we have a baseline for each individual that we can monitor for any abnormalities. When someone is ill, we know what their numbers should be."
Currently, there is no language in the collective bargaining agreement that restricts teams from collecting fluids or mining off-court data. One union fear is that such classified information could potentially be used against players in contract talks or leaked to unauthorized third parties.
There is no evidence that any wrongdoing has occurred, but legal experts familiar with biometrics urge caution.
"Employers dictating the health care of their employees is a conflict of interest that cannot be overcome," said Alan C. Milstein, a leading bioethics attorney and sports litigator who often represents NBA players. "I just refuse to believe that the purpose of monitoring on any long-term basis is the health of the employee. If the purpose is to predict performance, that's not a health care purpose. That's an economic purpose."