LAS VEGAS — Timing is everything. There are times when a great idea or product can be presented to the masses but still not latch on for many reasons. It could be because it was too ahead of its time or the idea had not been fully fleshed out.
In 1999, Mason Gordon who was working at a production company in Los Angeles, literally drew the foundation of SlamBall on a napkin. Yes, on a napkin.
So when you combine the inhuman jumping ability of NBA JAM and the near-criminal physicality of Blitz, add a dash of hockey with the forechecking, a sprinkle of And 1 basketball with Robert “Bojo” Ackah serving up hype man-like commentary during live play behind the soundtrack of a live DJ, and copious amounts of gymnastics artistry thanks to the spring beds on the court, you naturally get something called SlamBall!
Technically the sport, yes it is a sport, it started in 2000 with Gordon recruiting whoever he could find to live out this crazy sport and they played….in a basement. You have to start somewhere, right? And then the craziness began.
From 2002-2020 SlamBall had a variety of channels that they were on from Spike TV to NBC Sports to even Cartoon Network. Then in 2012, they entered a market that no one saw coming. The league took their talents to China. The sport took over the country for eight years and became a huge hit. So much so that SlamBall facilities were built in China to help grow interest and knowledge in the sport.
Then on August 3rd, 2022, the moment that true SlamBall fans had been waiting for, for about 10 years, Gordon announced that SlamBall was returning in the summer of 2023 and that now brings us here.
Why bring back SlamBall to the U.S. after all the success in China? Why even bother bringing SlamBall back after CNBC.com slotted SlamBall on its list of “seven of America’s most awesomely bad failed leagues” in 2010? Why bring back a sport that can be ripe with head trauma in an era of CTE awareness? Timing is everything.
SlamBall is the perfect sport for 2023 and beyond. When the sport debuted on TV, many people were not sure how to take it in. It seemed to be sensory overload and the collective public’s minds were not trained to take a basketball game with trampolines and forechecking.
In 2002, you bought CDs from the store. There was no DVR so you had to record a show or a game you might miss on a blank VHS tape. The world wide web was less than a decade old and Friendster was the current social media platform. And everyone having a smartphone with a camera on it would not be the norm for another decade.
As far as basketball culture and the game at that time were concerned, crossovers and dunks were appreciated but tough defense, solid footwork, and a deadly mid-range game were praised more by fans and practiced by players in the league, as well as up-and-coming prospects. The highlight culture in basketball did not exist in 2002 to the extent that it does now.
Since then, many technological advances have been made. Namely, YouTube, iPhones/iPads, Instagram, Bleacher Report, and TikTok, all of which not only helped the entire world to see one single clip or a compilation but also provided a platform for a sport that is based on short yet quick action and fits perfectly with a generation used to seeing exciting moments in a short amount of time.
When there is a foul during SlamBall, there isn’t a free throw. There is a face-off and not the kind you see in hockey. This face-off is about the player that got fouled attempting to dunk on the other team’s defender. What ensues is quite possibly the most exciting 5-7 seconds in sports as it’s a scene from the video game, NBA Street, recreated in real life.
Other great SlamBall features include when a three-pointer is made, it’s a four-pointer! Take note, NBA. The entire length of a game is 30 minutes with 5-minute quarters which allows for three games a night to be played, tournament style. The atmosphere is perfect for a family night out or date night with the tickets being $30 per person during the regular season and $15 per person during the playoffs.
When searching for talent, the league sought athletes with a variety of skill sets for a game that combines elements of basketball with hockey and trampoline skills. According to the league, 68% of drafted players have basketball backgrounds, 16% played football, 9% were on track and field teams, and 7% participated in multiple sports according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Also, according to the Winston-Salem Journal, players in the league are each given $450 per diem a week and then are given a weekly salary based on draft position. The league also provides Airbnb living for each team with pools and hot tubs, with each player getting their own room, team rental cars, and quick access to the grandeurs of Vegas.
When it comes down to the success of a sports league, sometimes it takes shrewd marketing and strategizing. Sometimes it takes the luck of a generational athlete to be drafted into the league and get casual eyes on it to grow the brand. And sometimes, it takes the right timing for a sport to come out and be fully embraced the way it was originally meant to be. SlamBall is the perfect sport for today’s world.