How an internship opened the door to the NBA
Like so many Victorian teenagers, a young Tom Crameri just wanted to work for an AFL club.
After a scattering of unpaid internships his skills have launched him across three continents to the US where he played a critical role in guiding one of the world’s biggest sports leagues through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been certainly one of the most challenging projects I’ve led to date out of about 50-plus rollouts,” the ACU graduate said of his role as project lead on Australian company Fusion Sport’s wellness tracking partnership with the NBA.
“We all love sport at our company, so to see it have the opportunity to continue and flourish is really rewarding.”
Tom’s focus for 2020 has been on the hundreds of basketball players, staff and media corralled into the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort, Florida, almost 3000km away from his base in Boulder, Colorado. The health of basketball giants LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden and others, and the NBA’s reputation wrested in his hands.
His company Fusion Sport provided the technology behind the mighty and complex effort to track and analyse the wellness data of everyone within the NBA’s Orlando campus or “bubble”.
While James and his Lakers teammates worked in isolation towards a 17th title, Tom tracked every player’s temperature, sniffle or sneeze so that basketball could deliver a competition that meant so much to so many.
His work wasn’t always this grand or impactful.
From humble beginnings
The footy-mad Victorian completed a Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science at ACU’s Melbourne Campus in 2013. There was an assortment of graduate jobs available, but the prized positions were with professional sporting clubs.
To break into that field required diligence, patience and a willingness to start at the bottom, typically as an unpaid intern. Tom recalled being aware of the long road to working full-time in sport science but was motivated enough to persevere.
“It’s a very challenging environment to break into but I was set (on that career),” he said.
Tom experienced life as an unpaid intern at NRL club the Melbourne Storm and was later offered a similar post at St Kilda in the AFL.
A left-field opportunity working for performance technology company Fusion Sport materialised and he was immediately interested.
It was initially another unpaid gig, and it meant relocating to Brisbane, but the gamble paid off.
A paid part-time position as a sport scientist followed, then, after a year, Tom was seconded to help the company build its presence in the United Kingdom.
“I had the knowledge from university that allowed me to grow in the role but there’s so much to learn on the job,” he said. “It’s a steep curve.
“The big thing for me was understanding what’s needed in such a fast-paced environment.”
A pandemic strikes
When the NBA resumed on 30 July following the pandemic shutdown, it did so under the extraordinary circumstances of playing the rest of the season without courtside fans at a confined campus at Walt Disney World. To complete the virus-affected season, strict protocols demanded players, coaches, staff and media kept the league informed of any potential exposure to the pandemic.
At least once daily they logged in to the NBA’s MyHealth app. On that platform they would complete a symptom questionnaire detailing any ailments, including cough, breathing issues, fever, body aches, headache, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, fatigue, congestion or runny nose.
A Kinsa Bluetooth-enabled smart thermometer would check their temperature, with that data then fed automatically into the app. There was also a Masimo a pulse oximeter that measures oxygen levels.
“What we really wanted to do was empower everyone to do it themselves every morning so we can integrate that,” said Tom Ryan, the NBA’s Associate Vice President of Basketball Strategy. “So if there is a flag, we will know it right away.”
Fusion works with many clients, including the US Ski and Snowboard Association, Australian Institute of Sport, and English Premier League giant, Arsenal, and outside of sport with the US Army, NSW Police Force and The Royal Ballet.
Tom’s role helps the NBA and other organisations use Fusion Sport’s Smartabase platform to streamline their COVID-19 tracking data workflow.
“We didn’t know what was coming all those months ago but it’s been easily adapted and manipulated into what they needed,” he said. “Lab results flowed through in automated fashion and alerts could be generated automatically so it gave a holistic snapshot of the athletes’ health.”
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