SlamBall is a futuristic-sounding sport that lives in the memories of Millennials. It's so futuristic, in fact, that "Back to the Future Part II" predicted its existence in 1985. A little over a decade later, such a sport came to be. Even more futuristic -- the hybrid sport finds inspiration in a video game.
Anywhere you look, sources will say the idea from SlamBall came from a video game. They then go on to mention NBA Jam, but never directly tie the two. I'm here to tie it up. SlamBall comes from the 1990s-kid-classic NBA Jam. It's no wonder the sport was successful.
SlamBall is the drunkenly conceived love child of the XFL, NFL, and NBA. The early-2000s were full of ridiculous high-octane sports. The era marks the (mainstream) birth of UFC, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, the XFL and the Champion of Ridiculous Pseudo-Sports, SlamBall.
What is this bastardized amalgamation of extremities, where did it go, and where is it going?
What is SlamBall?
SlamBall is a Frankenstein's monster of American-made fan-favorite full-contact sports. It combines American football physicality with basketball finesse, plus a little bit of hockey and some soccer sprinkled in for good measure. Also, trampolines. Can't forget the trampolines.
The result most resembles tackle basketball played in five-minute quarters. The court is basketball-sized, but four trampolines make up the inner three-point arc area. Players get unrealistic ups from the trampolines for slams, which are worth three points. All non-slam-related buckets are subject to goaltending (legal in SlamBall) and worth a mere two points. The object of SlamBall is to win. To do so, you need to slam more buckets than the other team.
SlamBall is the cure to the NBA's hyper-three-pointerism. They incentivize high-flying dunking and sensationally selfish play.
Both teams have four players and three positions: stopper, handler, and gunner. Stoppers are full-time defenders, handlers are point guards, and gunners are strikers (soccer!). Or, look at it like this: Gunners put stoppers on posters. Handlers are in the background.
SlamBall encourages open court tackles, thus adding another layer of slam.
¿Fui el único en España que vio Slamball en Cuatro? Es una locura de baloncesto. ?? pic.twitter.com/zp8yYYQEuQ
— Anastasio Ríos (@Tasio93) May 30, 2021
And yet another layer -- believe it or not -- fouls existed in SlamBall. Usually, they resulted in a face-off. It's like a hockey face-off, except, you know... slam.
Which face-off is best? 1, 2, or 3 #Slamball #sports #dunks pic.twitter.com/QdNvH8LYll
— SlamBall (@slambaIl) October 14, 2016
SlamBall offers the best Face-Off not starring Nicholas Cage. And speaking of Hollywood, that's where SlamBall's story started. True to most movie scripts, that's where it ended, too.
How Did SlamBall Start?
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Mason Gordon has long had a finger on the Millennial pulse. After writing for smash hits "Kenan & Kel"and "Cousin Skeeter", Gordon had an idea while working at Tollin/Robbins Productions in Hollywood.
He approached his boss Mike Tollin about a sport he was calling SlamBall. Armed with a diagram drawn on a napkin, Gordon pitched his new extreme sports phenomenon.
Tollin thought it had potential but passed. Six months later, he changed his mind. They approached The National Network (TNN) before they became Spike TV. The hyper-male-oriented channel immediately recognized SlamBall's appeal and purchased two seasons.
From the start, SlamBall's success has always been tied to television. The first SlamBall game had so-so ratings, but the premiere of the second season of SlamBall had more than two million viewers, as much as a typical baseball game at the time.
Season two saw the beginning of SlamBall's development into its own sport and more than just a violent form of basketball.
Jelani Janisse been keeping it real since day 1! #Slamball #Rumble
Tag a friend that should play!? pic.twitter.com/ofWdwwFevB
— SlamBall (@slambaIl) June 17, 2016
Five former basketball players started the league without tryouts as the Los Angeles Rumble and the Chicago Mob. The first recruits came from local blacktops like the world-famous Venice Beach courts, but the coach of the Rumble came from a real-life Hollywood story.
Coach Ken Carter of "Coach Carter" fame led the Rumble to a championship in their first season. John Starks joined as a coach for the second season, and he knows a thing or two about slam dunks. Other NBA players like Kenny Anderson were soon on board.
Stan Fletcher slew the SlamBall courts for both seasons. He staked his claim as the sport's GOAT, rivaling hoop legends Michael Jordan, and LeBron James. He's the best SlamBaller not named Jelani Jannise, another one of the sport's cult superheroes.
Jannise and Fletcher looked forward to seasons to come when behind-the-scenes disagreements caused the league to fold unexpectedly after the second season.
Network execs saw SlamBall as the WWE. Undoubtedly, all televised sports are part athleticism and part entertainment. The WWE leans into the spectacle, and SlamBall had the option to go that route.
SpikeTV wanted SlamBall to lean into the drama, but Mason Gordon balked. Determined to make SlamBall a legitimate sport, he took his sensation elsewhere. SlamBall never did quite catch on again, but that hasn't stopped Gordon from trying.
Since going off the air, SlamBall attempted a comeback with IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, in 2008, with games airing on NBC Sports, CBS Sports and Cartoon Network. The hybrid-sport also appeared on a few episodes of "One Tree Hill." Surprisingly, the teen melodrama offers some of the best shots of acrobatic SlamBall slams available today.
SlamBall hasn't broadcast on American networks since 2008, but it built a following in China in the meantime.
Slamball to Return in 2023
SlamBall made its TV debut 20 years ago today!
And it's making its return in 2023!! pic.twitter.com/PvEYvCBmVr
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) August 4, 2022
However, that's all about to change. Gordon announced to TMZ Sports that Slamball will be returning next summer.
"There have been all kinds of people clamoring for SlamBall to come back," he said. "There has been #BringBackSlamBall media, viewed over 200 million times in the last 12 months. So, I'm ready to announce next summer, 2023, SlamBall is coming back, live!"
Gordon cited market conditions and the short game-time as the primary reasons he sees SlamBall succeeding again.
"SlamBall just kind of fits the bill. They're 20-minute games. Television half hours. People obviously have really gravitated to the action, and it's this incredible mash-up between basketball, football, hockey, little bit of gymnastics, little bit of video games, that's just SlamBall."
20 minute games in a half hour TV spot? You're basically watching a sitcom. Plus, SlamBall does serve a certain instant gratification well suited to today's social media consumption.
Tollin will be rejoining Gordon for the project. He's gone on to produce "The Last Dance" and "The Captain" for ESPN since SlamBall's first stint. Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum, who's a noted fan, will certainly be tuning in
We're still a year out from a SlamBall 2.0, but only one thing is for sure -- watching this many SlamBall highlights is beginning to make my knees hurt.
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