Exclusive: Nike Unveils The LeBron James Innovation Center As It Intersects Sports, Tech & Science
Photo Credit: Slaven Vlasic

Exclusive: Nike Unveils The LeBron James Innovation Center As It Intersects Sports, Tech & Science

Nike is committed to leading the charge when it comes to the intersections of sports, technology and science. 

The company has announced its new LeBron James Innovation Center, where athletes of every background can become better through the understanding of bodies, genders, backgrounds and various ability levels. From there, Nike will create products tailored to the specific needs of the individual.

“Over the course of my career and my time here at Nike, for all of this to come together is surreal,” said LeBron James in an official statement on the news of the center. “Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to me, but I’m definitely honored. Having my name on the Innovation building feels very fitting because I’m always trying to figure out ways I can continue to innovate and continue to break the timeline of what they say is your prime.”

At Nike, the decision to name the center after the NBA superstar was really a no-brainer.

“When [LeBron] first came to Nike way back when he was coming out of high school and starting to become a household name, he came to the sports research lab of the time. Even then, he was already an incredible athlete for his age, but we were showing him things that he didn’t know about himself,” said Matthew Nurse, Vice President of Nike Sport Research Lab, in an exclusive interview with AfroTech. “He’s an exceptional basketball player, but he’s also an exceptional athlete, and being an exceptional athlete means you have to look at things holistically.”

Nurse took time to walk AfroTech through the highly anticipated LeBron James Innovation Center via Zoom. Here’s all that you need to know about the new facility opening its doors to all in Beaverton, OR.

What Is Nike's Sports Research Lab?

“This is not a backdrop, this is real,” said Nurse, as he sat in the new home of the Nike Sports Research Lab, also referred to as the heartbeat of the LeBron James Innovation Center.

He further explained that over 400 motion cameras at the center can help scientists in the lab quantify a body’s movement in space.

Inside of the center, you’ll find a group of scientists (about 75 strong) who are a part of an innovation team of over 600 people. They’re compiled of 25 people with Ph.D.s in their respective fields and 40 people who hold master’s degrees in their respective fields.

“We have deep expertise in the science of the mind, whether that be through a perception lens or a behavior and psychology lens,” said Nurse. “We use science as our tool to objectively understand people and their challenges and solve these challenges for athletes in a way that allows us to make measurably better products and experiences for athletes.”

Bridging The Gap Between Technology & Sports

“A lot of what happens in science is both trying to solve problems, but also having the technologies that allow you to explore and understand whatever you’re looking at,” he continued. ”For us, it’s athletes and sports in ways that you couldn’t explore them before.”

Nurse also explained that as science continues to advance — so does the technology used to explore it.

“There’s always technology that sort of lives alongside the advances of science, you have to have a telescope to look at the stars you want to understand them more completely,” he said. “So part of science is not only pushing the methods and pushing understanding, but pushing the tools that we have beside us. As we built this space, we have pushed the boundaries of the tools that we use to allow athletes the opportunity to come in, be themselves, play, train and compete. From there we quantify and understand those things using technology to push the limits of description.”

Building Leaders In STEM

“One of the things we’re really passionate about here is sport, and we have a very broad definition of sport. We want to make it a daily habit,” Nurse explained. “If you have a body, you’re an athlete and too often we think about sport through the lens of competition and organization. It’s for people of all abilities. If you’re moving, and you’re healthy — that’s our goal. And that’s our definition of sport.”

The overall goal is for the LeBron James Innovation Center is for it to not only be home to athletes of all walks of life, but to also be home to the future of leaders in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). 

“We want this place to be a beacon for future diverse STEM students who see a future path to really getting engaged in STEM whether it’s science, technology, engineering or math,” he continued. “Our scientists are creative and our best designers are technologically savvy. So, while we definitely want this to be a beacon of inspiration for athletes to learn about themselves, we also want future students and future people in general to realize that there’s exciting careers ahead, where you can tap into your love of math or physics or chemistry or engineering to help solve problems for people and do it with us as we work to help people get moving.”

Click here for an exclusive sneak peek inside of the new LeBron James Innovation Center.