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Nike opens LeBron James Innovation Center, new home of the Nike Sport Research Lab

The Nike Sport Research Lab is located on the top floor of the new LeBron James Innovation Center … [+] the Nike campus in Oregon.


A new building sits in the heart of Nike’s global headquarters in Oregon, and on the top floor of the 750,000-square-foot LeBron James Innovation Center is the Nike Sport Research Lab, a fitting place in the minds of the people who work there.

“We are right in the center of the campus,” says Dr. Matthew Nurse, Nike’s Vice President of the Nike Sport Research Lab. “If you take us to the fourth floor, you can stand anywhere on campus and point to the fourth floor and say that the athletes are there.”

Nike’s first research laboratory was established in Exeter, New Hampshire, over 40 years ago, but has been in the Mia Hamm Building on the Oregon campus since 1999. The lab’s official move this month to the LeBron James Innovation Center – named after the three-time NBA champion and four-time NBA MVP who signed with Nike in 2003, the same year he was drafted into the NBA, and has a Lifelong contract with the company – creates a space five times the size of the previous laboratory and promotes the research work of the Advanced Innovation team of 75 employees, 25 of whom have PhDs.

The full-size NBA basketball court at the Nike Sport Research Lab comes complete with data tracking … [+] Systems to better understand the movements and forces of athletes.


“I think this idea came up in 2013 on a napkin,” says Nurse. “Wouldn’t it be great if we had more freedom of movement for the athletes? During development, we paid attention to the athlete and his needs.”

That now includes an 84,000-square-foot space – all fully calibrated to collect data – with a full-size NBA basketball court, 200-meter fatigue lane, 100-meter two-lane athletics lane, and a concrete lane , a one-third the size regulated football field with artificial turf and outside the Budling a 150 foot ramp with a 15.63% incline. The data is recorded via 400 motion capture cameras and 97 force plate pits, the largest number of both in the world according to Nike.

With 825 test devices and four environmental chambers, tests of all kinds can take place, whether on the athlete or on the product. The space also connects the larger innovation group of 600 employees, which includes shoe and apparel designs supported by more than 80 prototyping machines.

A look inside the Nike Sport Research Lab on the top floor of the LeBron James Innovation Center … [+] the Nike campus in Oregon.


“One of the things this facility unlocks is the ability to see more diverse athletes in more diverse sports compete, train, and relax at full speed,” says Nurse, “in a way we’ve never had before . “

Since they have such a large space with growing technology, they are not limited to tracking athletes through choreographed movements, according to Nurse. “This room allows us to research teams that just show up and do five on five,” he says. “You can just play. When you need to exercise or rest, everything is here and everything is recorded. It’s a new way of getting people to study things. ”

The Nike Sport Research Lab’s cantilever has a waffle pattern, both for function and for … [+] Binds to the original waffle pattern used in Nike running shoes.


The turf opens up the sports of soccer, baseball, golf, and cricket, just to get started. Nike already had yoga and dancers on the basketball court, along with many basketball players. With the multifunctional surfaces, the scientists can record any number of sports and athletes.

The volume of the room, the level of technological equipment, and the ability to data and incorporate proprietary systems and update others into every part of the room, including a new training center, offer a “step change” from Nike, Nurse says.

A collection of LeBron James shoes in the Nike Sport Research Lab in a building named after her … [+] James.


The force plates were a critical component that allowed a complete understanding of a person’s connection to the surface. Getting these force plates to the fourth floor was a challenge, but the highly precise, accurate information provides a foundation for everything from stress on the joints to where the body is producing and giving off energy. This becomes a powerful starting point for understanding data and turning it into a solution.

Throughout the research process in the lab, Nurse says, they start with a problem and work to find the solution before starting product development. When collecting data, the holy grail is for it to become predictive or prescriptive. With the knowledge of the data, the team can then try to develop better products and come up with new solutions for athletes. “We don’t start with having to build a new shoe; we start by changing injuries as we run and see where that takes us, ”says Nurse. “This will result in products and services.”

A tribute to LeBron James at Nike in the new LeBron James Innovation Center.


Because of these force plates, Nurse originally hoped to house the laboratory on the first floor of the center, but engineers and architects created a way to raise it to allow extra high ceilings and impressive views over the campus. For an additional architectural touch by Seattle-based Olson Kundig, a concrete slab with a waffle pattern protrudes from under the cantilever arm on the fourth floor on which the NSRL sits. This tech approach serves a functional purpose in housing the lab’s highly technical equipment, but the waffle pattern also ties in with Nike’s history.

With the ability to prototype and the designers sitting next to the scientists, it speeds up the iteration process. “It’s the modern embodiment of Bill Bowerman’s laboratory,” says Nurse. “We try to use the laboratory to offer solutions that are either measurable or tangibly better.”

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