During this season’s NBA Slam Dunk Contest, which took place last Saturday night, Rockets forward Kenyon Martin Jr. used a new “airless” prototype basketball created by Wilson. The ball, which is essentially a latticework shell created by 3D printing, performs like a regulation basketball and has the potential to redefine ball design — not just on the hardcourt but for a broad range of ball-driven sports.
For this week’s Uni Watch Premium offering on Substack, I have an in-depth interview with the Wilson engineer who’s been heading this project. It’s fascinating stuff — I learned a lot, and I think you will too!
You can read the first part of the article here. To read the entire thing, you’ll have to become a paying subscriber to my Substack, which I hope you’ll consider doing. Thanks!
Regarding the 3D-printed basketball, I wonder how organizations will keep them clean? Now they’ll have to deal with the interior and exterior surfaces as well as the myriad of small holes in the design. Seems like any of them could trap and hold potentially hazardous germs, bacteria, etc.
Wash them by dunking in an appropriate cleaning solution?
Good question! I suppose that if “printing” them is cheap enough, they could become as frequently given away, discarded, etc. as baseballs are, before they get too dirty.
Another classic UW piece! Great subject and wonderful interview!
There’s a great behind the scenes of the production and design process on YouTube. Quick watch but informative.
This is still very early in the prototype phase. The ASG was the first real world test of how it would perform.
Never knew that dust bunnies could be a problem with basketballs.
I like the idea of it but I wonder about the air resistance – although the weight and size will be easy to match to a regular ball surely it will fly differently.
Probably only useful indoors too – outside it would pick up bits of gravel and things in the holes which would be short term bad for your hands and longer term bad because if something squeezed through a hole it would be really hard to get it back out.
I’d love to try one out though.
Very interesting concept, would love to try one. Will it have the same bounce and grip, will it feel differently? My experiences with current Wilson basketballs is not a good one (too light, they feel and handle like balloons), so I still prefer the old Spalding TF 1000.
This comes just in time, as supply-chain disruptions have resulted in a critical air shortage.
Seems like a solution in search of a problem. But who knows? We’ll see. Time will tell. Etc.
All you all worried about the little holes, I have a prediction. This prototype was probably meant to show off the new technology. You can see it doesn’t have air. But there’s nothing that would prevent them from covering that ball he’s holding (or a similar design) with a thin surface that is orange and dimpled and resembles the ball we all know already. When/if it goes prime time, I bet that’s what it looks like.