Wilson debuts airless 3D printed basketball in NBA dunk contest

4 mins read

A hole in your basketball is usually a bad thing, but Wilson’s strange new Airless basketball prototype regards them as a benefit. It’s definitely more hole than ball, yet it’s reported to bounce and respond like a standard NBA rock.

Wilson’s airless ball, like many of the airless tire designs we’ve seen, retains its bounce through the use of a finely developed elastic framework rather than pneumatic pressure. In this example, the business chose a sequence of hexagonal holes placed in a 3D lattice while still recreating the customary binding pattern of a leather ball, so players can get their fingers into the seams as usual.

Such a complex structure can only be 3D printed, so that’s what Wilson did, in a kind of “research-grade” polymer material, which was then coated in black and sent to Wilson’s “NBA test facility in Ada, Ohio” for “rigorous testing”.

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The results of these tests are not yet clear, although Houston Rockets forward “KJ” Martin can be seen giving it a bit of a bounce in the heavily edited video below.

In fact, Martin brought the prototypes out during the All-Star weekend for a little father-son action, which you can see at around 3:30 in the video below. From the evidence presented, it certainly seems to bounce about right and go through the hoop with alacrity when thrown into it by a 6’7″ superhuman.

Wilson says the Airless Prototype is designed to replicate the performance of a regular NBA ball as closely as possible, including the weight and bounce of a leather ball inflated to regulation pressure. As a frequent shooter myself, I’m intrigued to see how it feels in the hand, how it reacts to spin on a bounce pass or off the backboard, and whether the free movement of air through the body affects the aerodynamics much on a long shot. Would it be better or worse on a windy day?

The advantages are pretty clear: like airless tyres, you’ll never need to inflate these things, and a puncture won’t put an end to your session. On the other hand, they’ll probably start to pick up the odd piece of debris that’s rattling around inside. And while you can probably expect them to last a while, it would be interesting to know how the material stands up to years of hard bouncing and clanging from dual rims; will the polymer lose elasticity and bounce over time?

At the moment, Wilson is not making these things to sell, nor is it pushing the NBA to use them in games. That’s probably for the best; ballers can be a superstitious bunch, and if Steph Curry missed his first three shots with an airless ball, he’d probably never want to see one again. No, this is a concept ball, a test bed and an exploration of future possibilities. Concept balls! What an age we live in!

Watch a video of the design and build process below.



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