Oct 7, 2014 · 2 minutes

Since former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer bought the Los Angeles Clippers for the unprecedented sum of $2 billion (the next largest NBA sale in history was only $550 million), around a third of all NBA teams have a majority owner with deep ties to Silicon Valley. Other billionaire tech-sports enthusiasts include the Dallas Mavericks' Mark Cuban and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen who owns the Portland Trail Blazers.

So it's fitting that the NBA has also become one of the most technologically-savvy sports leagues in the nation. One of the league's high-tech endeavors involves cameras originally designed for Israeli missile defense systems to track player movement on the court. Earlier this year, the Sacramento Kings even became the first pro sports team to accept Bitcoin.

But like with any technological revolution, the NBA's tech fetishism may quickly turn from cool to creepy.

A new article in ESPN The Magazine charts the rise of biometric monitoring of NBA players -- on the court, but potentially off the court as well. Pablo S. Torre and Tom Haberstroh write,

But to follow this logic to its conclusion is to understand why the scope of this monitoring is expanding, and faster than the public knows. Teams have always intuited that on-court productivity could be undermined by off-court choices -- how a player exhausts himself after hours, for instance, or what he eats and drinks. Now the race is on to comprehensively surveil and quantify that behavior. NBA executives have discovered how to leverage new, ever-shrinking technologies to supervise a player's sleeping habits, record his physical movements, appraise his diet and test his blood. In automotive terms, the league is investing in a more accurate odometer.
While the benefits to NBA teams and even the players are hard to deny, off-court biometric tracking could also set a potentially disturbing precedent over what medical data employers can request -- or literally extract -- from their employees.

Bioethics attorney Alan C. Milstein tells ESPN, "Employers dictating the health care of their employees is a conflict of interest that cannot be overcome."

Troublingly, this unsettling evolution in tech is following the same track in the realm of consumer products, with companies like Facebook reportedly exploring health-tracking technology, as if Mark Zuckerberg needed another way to collect data on his users.

Medical data collection, whether it's to improve an employee's performance or, in the case of Facebook, to better tailor advertisements to users, is poised to become one of the biggest ethics debates over the coming decade. And with the NBA already pioneering new ethical ground in this field, tech may be able to learn as much from sports as sports has learned from tech.

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]