Closer than it appears: A very different future

March, 12, 2012
3/12/12
12:47
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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The first few days of SXSW -- Austin's ongoing, massive and multi-faceted coalescence of the plugged in -- were marred by fog, darkness and rain.

When I checked into my hotel they told me it was sunny in Austin 300 days a year. But Friday and Saturday were plainly from the dreary other 65, making my suitcase full of t-shirts and shorts look loco. There was a lot of furtive shuffling, through mud and puddles, from event to event, with the determination not to bump into acquaintances, not outside anyway, because denim takes a hell of a long time to dry.

But Sunday the real, sunny, Austin came back and the hobnobbers and networkers blossomed like a desert full of cacti.

And so it was I found myself in a swarm of Ivy Leaguers-and-similar with a wristband, a free drink and a rooftop view of the city and the future. SXSW is the land of startups, and the starter-uppers were poolside with funky beats and huge ideas.

Some of the topics on the agenda at this conference: Stephen Wolfram and his little project to map all human knowledge. Ray Kurzweil and his little idea that there may not be limits to human intelligence. Smaller ideas were things were imminent and profound changes to the future of things like democracy and money. Many of those who were present for the invention of social media are in Austin, discussing things like facilitating the overthrow of several governments around the globe, which was an hors d'oeuvre compared to what many suggest is coming.

Meanwhile, it used to feel like the sports world was undergoing big changes, but by comparison to the real world they're tiny. Kevin Arnovitz ran a great panel about the changing sports media industry -- now NBA fans on Twitter collaborate nightly in creating the game story of record, shaking up the old model where the beat writer had all the say. I led a conversation with a fantastic expert about how biomechanical insights from the lab -- the kinds of things the underpin the book "Born to Run" -- have profoundly shaken the running industry, and are sure to make big waves in all sports as more and more people learn more and more stuff about preventing injuries while running faster and jumping higher.

Compared to bringing down the Egyptian government these things we're dealing with in sports are tiny.

And it's not that every, or even majority, of these big-thinking smartypants young people will get to see their ideas all the way through. But many of them will. Money is pouring into social media and the like. There will be more than enough at-bats to result in a homerun derby. Thanks to the incredible spread of information, knowledge and tools more people know more than ever, and more and faster change is quickly becoming the only constant. Five years used to mean almost nothing, in terms of how human tools and habits evolve. Now it means a ton.

Which makes me more glad than ever that we're digging into HoopIdea, the point of which is to be pro-active in figuring out in what profound ways the NBA is going to change quickly. Because there's no getting around the reality that it, like everything, is going to evolve quickly, because the smart people are out there, in big numbers, with big ideas backed by clever data. They are passionate and determined to change the world, including the world of basketball.

This is no time to cling to tradition. This is a time for thinking intelligently about what we want the future of basketball to look like, and to make that happen. And on that note: Who does the best job of thinking like that? E-mail hoopidea@gmail.com, because we're going to assemble a panel of experts to help us decide what makes the most sense. Want to get a good mix of basketball expertise and thinking outside the box ... 'cause that's exactly where things are headed.

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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