IBM’s Advance Scout was once NBA All-Star

Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal shared MVP honors at the 2000 NBA All-Star Game. But the real story was IBM’s Advance Scout, which used data mining to help NBA teams win.

Some 13 years ago, IBM hosted a press conference at the 49th NBA All-Star Game, which took place at the Oakland Arena in California. We were flacking Advance Scout, a customized IBM data mining application that NBA teams were using to discover hidden patterns from data.

It was in Sunday February, 13, 2000, shortly after the world survived Y2K. The Internet was just starting to become popular. Big data, the cloud and Smarter Planet weren’t ready for prime time.

Advance Scout was developed by an IBM T.J Watson Center researcher, Dr. Inderpal Bhandari, an expert in data mining and later the founder and CEO of Virtual Gold, an IBM Business Partner.

The innovative application was a trend-setter, a very early player in data analysis for non-technical users. At one point, some 25 NBA teams used Advance Scout to develop game plans and make real-time, game-time decisions.

Data mining was credited with helping the Orlando Magic nearly pull off a playoff upset against the second-seeded Miami Heat in the first round of the 1997 NBA playoffs. And it helped the Toronto Raptors make the playoffs in 2000 before they were swept by the Knicks.

In Oakland, IBM brought in about 10 newspaper and IT trade reporters, including the San Francisco Chronicle, the National Post of Canada, InfoWorld and PC Week, to a press event before the All-Star game. Dr. Bhandari participated along with the late Jim Kelly, an IBM marketing executive, and Brian James, then an assistant coach with the Raptors.

In the All-Star Game that weekend, the Raptors’ Vince Carter won the slam dunk competition. The West beat the East 137-126. Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal combined for 46 points and 23 rebounds and were named co-MVPs. Philadelphia’s Allen Iverson led all scorers with 26 points.

One of my highlights was meeting Oscar Robertson on an elevator at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.