Last night, I was sitting next to LeBron James inside an SUV, listening to the NBA superstar talk about what basketball means to his family as his son sat behind us, playing on an iPad. Soon later I was inches away from the 6-foot-8, 250-pound beast, marveling at his ridiculous physique as he did abdominal exercises at a small Miami gym. A few minutes passed, and LeBron was looking directly at me as the 30-year-old described his greatest source of inspiration.
These are a few snapshots of my experience watching James’ first virtual reality film.
The 12-minute documentary released on Christmas Day was developed by Oculus and James’ own multimedia content production company, Uninterrupted, and was directed by VR studio Felix and Paul.
The short movie, called Striving for Greatness: An Uninterrupted Original, focuses on how James prepared for his 13th NBA season a few months ago. It’s one of the first virtual reality films featuring a professional athlete.
The content is nothing too special, but does give fans a reminder of the type of preparation and mentality required of the world’s greatest basketball player who is older than most of today’s NBA stars.
What makes this particular film really cool, for me at least, was watching it in virtual reality. It was created exclusively for Facebook-owned Oculus on Samsung’s $99 Gear VR device — James is a long-time spokesperson for Samsung — and, like many virtual reality experiences, really made you feel like you were “there” with James as he worked out, dunked basketballs, did laps in a swimming pool, or just simply had a 1-on-1 conversation in front of the camera.
Whatever the scene, you could look around and check out the environment while James or his trainer spoke. My favorite moment, though subtle, was sitting beside James in the SUV. I could watch LeBron to my right; I could turn around and see his son playing on an iPad; I could look to the left and peer outside the window. Another neat aspect was the audio — the sound would shift to the appropriate earbud in my headphones depending on where my head was turned in relation to the person speaking.
Speaking of audio, there was plenty of Drake music during this film, which makes sense — James is friends with the “Hotline Bling” rapper and NBA fan.
The video quality, as is the case for most 360-degree videos, is relatively subpar. But aside from that, it’s just really cool feeling like you’re “there” next to LeBron as he goes about his day. I had a similar experience after watching live U.S. Open action this past summer with NextVR’s technology.
You can watch the 360-degree videos via Facebook with Android devices or on desktop with Google Chrome, but after just doing so, I much prefer consuming this content with the Gear VR versus my phone or laptop.
The documentary is also another example of James’ interest in media and off-the-court business opportunities. In addition to co-founding “Uninterrupted,” the four-time NBA MVP also has a separate media company called Spring Hills Entertainment, which recently inked a deal with Warner Bros. James, who appeared in the hit comedy movie Trainwreck with Amy Schumer earlier this year, also has an endorsement deal with Apple-owned Beats Electronics.