Wilson debuts an airless 3D-printed basketball in the NBA dunk contest

Wilson debuts an airless 3D-printed basketball in the NBA dunk contest
Wilson's "Airless Prototype" - a basketball made mainly of holes
Wilson's "Airless Prototype" - a basketball made mainly of holes
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Wilson's "Airless Prototype" - a basketball made mainly of holes
Wilson's "Airless Prototype" - a basketball made mainly of holes

A hole in your basketball is typically not a good thing, but Wilson's bizarre new Airless basketball prototype treats them as a feature. Indeed, it's probably more hole than ball, and yet it's said to bounce and respond like a regulation NBA rock.

Like many of the airless tire concepts we've seen, Wilson's airless ball maintains its bounce using a highly engineered elastic structure instead of pneumatic pressure. In this case, the company went with a series of hexagonal holes, arranged into a 3D lattice, while also replicating the typical binding pattern of a leather ball, so players can get their fingers into the seams as per normal.

A structure this complex can only be 3D-printed, so that's what Wilson did, in some kind of "research-grade" polymer material, which was then coated in black, and sent off to Wilson's "NBA test facility in Ada, Ohio," for "rigorous testing."

The results of this testing are not yet clear, although Houston Rockets forward "KJ" Martin has been shown giving it a bit of a bounce in the heavily edited video below.

Introducing the Wilson Airless Prototype Basketball

Indeed, Martin brought the prototypes out during All-Star weekend for a quick father-and son act, which you can see at about 3:30 in the video below. On the evidence presented, it certainly seems to bounce about right and go through the hoop with alacrity when thrown into it by a 6-foot 7-inch superhuman.

The FULL 2023 NBA #ATTSlamDunk Contest! 👀 | 2023 #NBAAllStar

Wilson says the Airless Prototype is designed to match the performance of a regular NBA ball as closely as possible; including the weight and bounce response of a leather ball inflated to regulation pressure. As a frequent hoop enjoyer myself, I'm fascinated to know what the grip's like in your hand, how it reacts to spin on a bounce pass or off the backboard, and whether the free movement of air through the carcass affects the aerodynamics much on a long shot. Would this thing be better or worse on a windy day?

The benefits are fairly clear; as with airless tires, you'll never have to pump these things up, and no puncture is going to put an end to your session. On the other hand, they'll probably start to pick up the odd bit of debris, which'll rattle around in there. And while they can probably be expected to last a fair while, it'd be interesting to know how the material stands up to years of hard bouncing and clanging off double rims; will the polymer lose elasticity and bounce over time?

Wilson's not making these things to sell them at this point, and neither 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 a time we live in!

Check out a video talking through the design and build process below.

The Making of the Wilson Airless Prototype Basketball

Source: Wilson

That's pretty cool. Would be great to have a ball that never deflates. Assuming it feels like a traditional ball, and weighs the same, I hope they sell it to the consumer in the coming years.
New isn't necessarily great. It's a cool concept but for now, its use in real-world pro games should wait until all the holes, um bugs, are worked out.
If Wilson were to make this a production ball, then there is no reason why the ball could not be covered or printed to have a sealed outer surface to ensure the aerodynamics match that of a conventional ball. Indeed the outer surface could be identical to a regulation ball, so it felt and handled as you’d expect. By showing it here “naked” they are just demonstrating in the clearest way possible, that this is an airless ball.
Don't drop it in the pool or leave it in the rain--unless soggy shoes are OK with you.
Great! So if your team is being thrashed, just gum up a few holes with some weighted gummy stuff and introduce a bias in the way the ball travels through the air and bounces off the backboard.