NBA

How to watch the NBA anywhere, on any device

While the TV and couch will probably always be the preferred method of watching pro hoops, the NBA is finally starting to make moves to accomodate fans’ poly-gadget, on-demand lifestyles.

The bad news is that most of these streaming options still require you to prove that you have a cable subscription, so in most cases a full-on cord cut will have to wait a bit longer.

New cable-streaming options

The NBA is now finalizing agreements for the 2013–14 season that will allow regional cable providers to stream home-market games to subscribers’ computers or mobile devices. It will be the first time a major U.S. sports league has done this.

Sixteen NBA teams are finalizing home-market streaming deals with Fox Sports Media Group, while another eight teams are finishing deals with NBC Sports Group (aka Comcast). Fox Sports Media and NBC Sports Group are the biggest regional sports network owners in the United States.

To stream games, fans will need to authenticate their cable subscription online, or through a specialized app such as Fox Sports Go (sorry, Android users, the app is currently available only on iOS). Smaller regional cable carriers will begin participating in the streaming deals “later in the season.” Check with your local TV network or on your local team’s website to see what options are available in your area.

You’ll also find streaming options for nationally broadcast games, but these too require you to have a cable subscription.

Other Web options

With a verified cable subscription, you can log in to stream NBA games on ESPN via WatchESPN.com or the WatchESPN app (Android or iOS). This offering is available mostly on Fridays and Wednesdays (see the full schedule).

TNT also features nationally broadcast games throughout the season, mostly on Thursday nights (see the full schedule). Viewers can watch live games online via the TNT Overtime site, which provides interactive features and alternative angles. Overtime was designed as a second-screen app, but you can use it as a primary video source in a pinch. You should be able to access most Overtime games without a cable subscription.

NBA apps
Options such as the Watch ESPN app (left) and the NBA Game Time app (right) allow you to view games live on your phone.

ABC is the other national NBA partner. The games are mainly on Sundays (see the schedule). You can stream the games via the aptly named Watch ABC app (Android, iOS, Kindle Fire). For now, Watch ABC is available only to customers of a handful of cable providers.

The Aereo option

If you live in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Miami, New York, or Salt Lake City, Aereo may be another option for watching local over-the-air games. Aereo offers to host a small TV antenna and stream to you the over-the-air programming it receives via broadband. While the service is still somewhat buggy, Aereo does boast a DVR feature, which allows you to watch games on your device, on your schedule.

No matter how you plan on streaming games, you’ll find a still-evolving patchwork of blackout rules and licensing agreements to weave through. In most instances you will need to check beforehand to make sure your streaming service of choice will indeed have the games you want. Here’s hoping that all this streaming-agreement nonsense will be sorted out and simplified by the 2014–15 season.

League Pass

As for specifically tailored online options, the NBA’s League Pass gives fans access to every out-of-market game that isn’t being broadcast nationally. This is your best choice if you don’t live in the same city as your favorite team.

League Pass is an umbrella brand name that covers a number of services. The most basic offering is the League Pass Mobile plan, which allows users to stream a season’s worth of games through the league’s official Game Time app (Android, iOS). The mobile plan will run you $50 for the season (only $40 for Sprint customers). Note: The mobile streaming package is good only for iPhones and Android phones, not tablets or computers.

NBA App
A screenshot of the NBA Game Time app for tablets.

Even if you don’t purchase the Mobile plan, the Game Time app will give you free access to scores, news, and video highlights. For $10 (free for Sprint customers), fans can upgrade to Game Time Plus, which gives you access to audio streams of every game throughout the league.

The League Pass Broadband plan allows you to watch live NBA games as well as replays via a number of devices: computer, tablet, Apple TV, Roku, or Xbox (but not your TV or phone). The Broadband plan costs $130 for the season with access to your five favorite teams, or $190 for access to all 30 teams. The packages are also available in five-part installment plans that cost an additional $15 and $20 (respectively) in the long run.

Finally, you might consider the TV/Broadband/Mobile plan, available for $190 through your local cable provider. This plan gives you access across all your devices and lets you view every game on your TV or any mobile device.

Beware of scams

A Google search for “streaming NBA games” brings up a plethora of streaming options—many of which look deceptively legit but have “sketchy” written all over them once you dig in.

For example, one site that came up high in my initial search (and which included “NBA” in the URL) appeared to be official, if low-rent. The site promised to stream one of the preseason games that was happening at the time. Instead it streamed a Hebrew-language Israeli sports network’s coverage of some international soccer match.

A number of streaming sites with international domains promise to stream NBA games to you if you download a free desktop app. Please—never, never do that.

Things will get easier

Right now it isn’t easy to find streaming options for NBA games. Part of the problem is that the NBA, like other content owners, wants to remain loyal to cable TV partners by not increasing the cord-cutting temptation for subscribers. But history indicates that this will not always be the case. If the evolution of media has taught us anything, it’s that digital technology will continually break old paradigms. Check back this time next year: Our guide to streaming in the 2014–15 season will probably look very different.

Image credit: Domenic Gareri, Shutterstock

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