“One small step for man, one giant leap for Slam-kind.”

When Mason Gordon discovered some scraps of wood and gym equipment in a small Los Angeles warehouse in 2001, he knew he’d hit the jackpot. His blueprints, once brainstormed on a napkin, were to spring into action in the form of SlamBall.

New_Slamball_Court_photo

SlamBall is played on shock-absorbent panels of wood in an enclosed rink with a hoop at each end. Two teams of four players aim to outscore each other within four quarters of five minutes. Two points are gained from a regular jump shot within the arc. Three can be scored from outside the arc as well as slam dunks.

Sounds pretty normal, right?

Not exactly. SlamBall’s USP lies in its four trampolines embedded into the floorboards under each hoop so players can rise to beastly heights and execute phenomenal dunks. What’s more, rules are lax and contact is encouraged (very much opposed to Tchoukball).

Incorporating the hand-eye coordination required in basketball, the brawn of ice hockey and the agility of gymnastics, the hybrid attracts a variety of sports fans who crave any display of dynamism and athleticism. Those who fantasise about the Superman-esque actions of video games like NBA Jam should look no further. Even the vertically-challenged have a platform on which they can defy the laws of gravity and get their own backs on Brobdingnagians.

Those who fantasise about the Superman-esque actions of video games like NBA Jam should look no further.

Its incarnation was actually predicted by the 1985 film of the Back to the Future trilogy, which referenced the sport on the USA Today front page in a scene set in 2015. Yet little has been said about SlamBall since.

Key to any startup sport, especially in the modern day, is media coverage. The game originally caught the attention of hundreds of street basketballers who wanted in on the fun. In 2002, Gordon landed a television deal with Spike TV after recruiting five athletes alongside him to play for the inaugural teams, the LA Rumble and the Chicago Mob. However, in the words of Sir Isaac, “what goes up must come down”. SlamBall quickly faded following disputes with Warner Bros. over Gordon’s vision of a formal sports league.

The advent of social media has helped. Video-sharing sites like Vine and the global networking power of Facebook internationalised the sport by pumping up viewers around the world. When this pops up on your news feed, you can’t help the urge to try it out:

But Gordon didn’t want it to simply become a string of viral YouTube hits. Broadcasters in the US seemed to have enough of gimmicky games (viz. cup stacking, Scrabble Championships). He looked eastwards in his efforts to revive it. SlamBall skipped across networks in Spain, Italy, China and Australia – places where alternative sports needed an outlet. Audience numbers eclipsed projected ratings. Last year saw China hold the first ever major SlamBall tournament.

The American sports market still trumps others. What the expanded base and growing popularity of SlamBall abroad meant for US producers was another opportunity that would serve the interests of broadcasters and viewers as well as the players.

SlamBall bounced back in 2008 with IMG financing a new league in the USA. Tryouts and training camps were set up in selected cities to round up the biggest bouncers, the hardest hitters and the deadliest dunkers in the land. Big names including Pat Croce, former owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, and Ken Carter, played by Samuel L. Jackson of Coach Carter silver screen fame, were roped in to publicise the sport.

The 2008 season was aired on Versus (now NBC Sports) and got plenty of coverage, extending to Cartoon Network at weekends (arguably aiming to gain street-cred with kids rather than reduce its ‘sports’ reputation). Crucially, by airing in the summer, it fills the hole between the end of the basketball season and the beginning of the American football season. Fans too bored of baseball or not entertained enough with Major League Soccer’s talents finally had something to engage with.

Crucially, by airing in the summer, it fills the hole between the end of the basketball season and the beginning of the American football season.

Yet, at grassroots, functional problems arise. It is neither cheap to durably produce nor safe for anyone to play on a court with eight trampolines. Gordon, not renowned for his engineering, has left it open for experts to design and fabricate a playing area suitable for the average Joe. More innovation can lead to lower costs. Universities can get involved in its development by creating and testing prototypes. Smaller courts with more protective equipment for younger players, correct training and safety checks are necessary for the sport to progress.

Universities can get involved in its development by creating and testing prototypes.

SlamBall is on its way up again. Talks of a World Cup and inclusion in the Olympics may be a little premature as of yet, but its goals are ambitious. Fan demand is there. Foundations are in place. Once the sport is universalised, it will give (super)power to the people. SlamBall is a jump in the right direction.

John Mastrini

@honzamastrini

Follow Impact Sport on Twitter and Facebook

Images courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

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