Every morning in the NBA’s hotel campus at Disney World in Orlando, players and coaches wake up to a series of COVID-19-related questions they must answer in an app. Markus Deutsch, the CEO of Fusion Sport, ticks off a few of them that might come up: “How are you feeling? Were you around anyone who had symptoms? Did you get sneezed on? Did you get into any situations where you were unable to socially distance? That was where we started.”
There is also a Kinsa Bluetooth thermometer for a temperature check, which is fed into the app. And there’s a Maximo pulse oximeter that can measure oxygen in the blood—because COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, a drop in oxygen often shows up before any other symptoms. As players complete each question and test, a green box is checked. If the boxes are all green, the players are free to wander.
It’s led to a widespread feeling of security within the NBA’s bubble, even as the novel coronavirus has spiked in many places across the country—including just outside the bubble in Florida.
“I think what the NBA has done with the environment that we’’re all in is spectacularly brilliant,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said from practice on Monday. “I think it’s elite, and I personally have zero complaints about anything that might prohibit us from doing our job. We have the resources, and we have the environment. I think that it’’s an incredibly unique opportunity, and I think the NBA and Adam Silver deserve a lot of credit.”
The data lands on the platform of Fusion Sport, a small health software company that Deutsch founded in Australia in 2003 after having worked as a sports science consultant for New Zealand’s national rugby team. The data then becomes a macro way for the NBA to track what is happening inside its so-called bubble environment, which centers around three hotels and three arenas at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex. The league can see what happens when players run a mildly high temperature or how their oxygen levels fluctuate.
It is an important frontline tool to monitor COVID-19, from a company that has already had extensive and years-long interaction with the NBA—along with other major organizations in the U.S., Australia and across the globe, including the military. Fusion Sport is the database used by the NBA for measurements taken at the NBA Draft Combine, at the NBA’s Global Academy in Canberra, Australia, and in other NBA programs.
In those programs, Fusion keeps a checklist of more standard health-related items—sleep, wellness, mental health. But as the novel coronavirus began its spread around the globe in the late winter and early spring this year, Deutsch began fielding a different type of request from clients: Can we use this technology to help battle COVID-19?
His response: “Of course.”
Because Fusion was already set up to gather data through daily questionnaires and wearable technology given to players, soldiers and other clients, the company needed only to alter its technology slightly. “It is really just a matter of doing the work to build out a number of specific options,” Deutsch said. “It was an easy pivot. Our goal generally is to help our clients optimize the output of their workforces. We just had to adjust that to what we know about COVID.”
‘People Actually Need To Look After Their People’
That general goal—optimizing outputs—began with sports. Fusion, headquartered in Brisbane, had its first successes with sports leagues in Australia and New Zealand. It is used by the Australian Institute of Sport, the National Rugby League, the Australian Football League and Hockey Australia.
Deutsch was on the forefront of sports’ technological revolution, which has overhauled the way we measure in-game production through the use of advanced statistics and has similarly changed the way athletes are monitored and sized up off the floor to find ways to maximize their performance.
“I got into making technology for, initially, just profiling athletes, combine information and that sort of thing,” Deutsch said. “This was right back in 2003. We saw an explosion of technology coming into sport with the advent of GPS and Bluetooth and WiFi and all those things. That was all becoming mainstream and we saw that this would have a dramatic effect on sport science and performance science. So we decided we needed to get into the middle of that and become the data backbone of it.”
Now, 17 years later, Fusion is not only supporting the ways to keep athletes healthier, it is helping the military optimize its, “human weapons system,” as soldiers are now known among armed forces brass. Maybe more important, it is offering a first-wave way to keep track of COVID-19 symptoms and patterns, including in the NBA bubble environment. As the outbreak of cases seen already in baseball, just days into its restart, the bubble has proven critical to making the league’s restart safe.
Fusion is part of that. And its technology could end up being a bigger part of how we, in this country and across the planet, change the way we see our health. If NBA players are being monitored by simple temperature, oxygen and wellness tests in Orlando, maybe we all should in the future.
Maybe the state of the planet’s fight against coronavirus would look much different.
“The silver lining that may come out of this whole horrible thing is, I am quite hopeful that it will make the world realize that people actually need to look after their people,” Deutsch said. “We should be using more human monitoring, more constant monitoring of health rather than just dealing with problems after they’re here.
“How would we have handled this as a society if we had been already dialed in wellness monitoring technologies? It would have shown up much faster and it would have been a lot easier to contain.”