Recently, I traveled to New Jersey to visit one of the National Basketball Association (NBA) offices. Not only do we have a sponsorship with the NBA, but they are one of our customers. As a huge basketball fan, it was an awesome experience to see all of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. As a leader for our Security Business Group, it felt even better to visit the NBA to discuss how we can help them provide the best possible experience for their fans – on and off the court.

Security Above Everything

While all of the NBA teams are in North America, the league is an international brand with a technological footprint that includes New York, New Jersey, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Beijing, and London. There are 108 international NBA players from 42 different countries, and every team includes at least one international player. As the brand continues to expand, the threats increase exponentially. For NBA Chief Technology Officer, Krishna Bhagavathula, and Head of IT Infrastructure & Operations, Steve Grossman, top-tier network security delivers a quality experience for NBA fans and ensures safety for the NBA brand.

The NBA has two significant aspects to their network: internal IT systems and externally facing systems. Internally, the NBA must provide systems and technologies that support their employees. Similar to other businesses, the NBA has an expansive network of devices used for everyday operations. Now, imagine needing to relocate half of that network for a week. This happens EVERY year for NBA All-Star week. Eight-hundred of the 1,500 NBA employees travel to the host-site for the weekend. In addition to the arena, there are eight to ten venues, such as hotels, supported by the NBA network to facilitate the fan experience too!

Now for the externally facing systems. Within arenas, there are jumbotrons, video screens, cameras, audio equipment, etc. To deliver the NBA experience outside of arenas, the NBA uses an expansive list of platforms. The NBA provides instant statistics and highlights distribution in real-time. There are numerous streaming options provided by their League Pass, and all of their games are broadcast either locally, nationally, or globally. In addition to traditional platforms, the NBA constantly embraces a variety of newer social platforms. To use all of these, the NBA requires a dynamic and robust network. If their network fails, not only is the fan experience disrupted, but the failure can cause significant harm to the brand that the NBA has built. As the list of externally facing platforms increases, new threat vectors are also introduced. To prevent a significant cyber breach from happening, they prioritized security.

The Cisco Sixth Man

Oftentimes, to secure a network and to combat threats, companies deploy products from 20 to 50 different security vendors. The NBA, however, realized that there is a better approach. The NBA wanted an end to end, holistic approach to security. Originally, Grossman specifically pursued our ASA firewalls. With Firepower services, the firewalls provided maximum efficacy and manageability powered by the threat intelligence from Cisco Talos for providing deep global and local network visibility and analytics. In addition, Grossman highlights Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE) for network segmentation.  Improved segmentation is an increasingly important defense to modern day threats.

Not only does the NBA use our threat intelligence, but they read our Talos blog for critical insights. For example, on February 12, 2018, Cisco Talos published a blog on the Olympic Destroyer. The NBA All-Star game was February 18. By reading the blog, the NBA’s IT department felt prepared for an attack that could directly affect their biggest week of the year!

Rather than creating a security solution with many small patches, Cisco has provided the NBA with one, strong unified, solution to help meet their demands while providing unparalleled security.

As the demands of the NBA change so will we. Think of Cisco as the ultimate sixth-man.

Watch interview with NBA’s CTO and Head of IT Infrastructure and Operations (2min)

Listen to podcast (20min)



Jeff Reed

SVP/GM of Cloud and Network Security

Security Business Group