A Hole New Ball Game

Its dimples will let even you palm the regulation-sized Hole-in-One basketball
December 26, 1994

If you're among the multitude of frustrated hoopsters who have always dreamed of palming a basketball, your time has finally come. Thanks to the felicitously named Marvin Palmquist of Rock-ford, Ill., you can now handle the ball like the big guys.

Palmquist—who lives on Palm Avenue—is an 80-year-old retired hearing-aid distributor. Not the type to settle into a rocking chair, in the past 20 years he has rebuilt an old Goodyear airship, restored Rockford's historic 1,500-seat Midway Theatre and put some half-dozen television stations on the air.

Palmquist is also a longtime hoops fan, and about three years ago he began toying with the idea of designing a new basketball. His object was to create a ball that would be of regulation size and weight but easier for kids to handle than a standard ball.

An idea came while he watched Michael Jordan play. "It seemed like whenever Michael could get away, he wanted to play golf," says Palmquist. "So I thought, Bingo! I'll many the golf ball and the basketball." Palmquist figured the dimples would allow small hands to get a better grip on the ball.

He set out at once to get the ball made. "I realized that I couldn't just go in and describe this," Palmquist says. "I knew I had to have a production ball to show people."

After learning that most basketball manufacturing is done in the Far East, Palmquist put a notice in a commercial newsletter and received a response from the Reborder Company of Taiwan. Before you could say "Dr. Naismith," Palmquist had ordered sample balls.

In the fall of 1993 the requested samples arrived. "Strange as it may seem, everything was done right the first time," says Palmquist. "When I saw that, I felt I was on the right track." Most important, he saw that his theory held up—the ball was indeed easier to grip.

He dubbed his creation the Hole-in-One basketball and began looking for a U.S.-based sporting-goods company that could handle both large-scale manufacturing and distribution. A brief article about the ball in The Wall Street Journal last February caught the attention of Gordie Nye, president of Voit Sports, Inc., a 73-year-old sporting-goods manufacturer in the process of updating its products. "We recognized a lot of potential here," says Nye of Palmquist's invention. "We saw it as something much more mainstream than just the Hole-in-One, which is a novelty concept. We think it has the potential to be the ultimate outdoor basketball."

In their negotiations, Nye and Palmquist also realized that the dimpled surface might have broader applications. "We think it can work on more than just basketballs and perhaps have a different effect, depending on the sport," says Nye. "What makes a golf ball fly far and true are the dimples. So in soccer, for example, where the issue these days is scoring, when you add dimples to the ball, you get it to really fly." Accordingly, Palmquist's patent application for the dimpled covering includes all inflatable balls.

James McLaughlin, the athletic director and football coach at Woodstock Union High School, in Vermont, expects a different benefit from the proposed dimpled football. McLaughlin, whose physed classes used the Hole-in-One basketball last spring, says, "I'm really waiting to see the football, because on a rainy day, we have to either use a leather game ball and ruin it—which gets expensive—or use a rubber ball, which becomes difficult to grab. A dimpled ball, because it grips better, has real possibilities as a rainy-day football."

Voit is planning to unveil its entire line of dimpled balls next July at a sporting-goods convention in Chicago. The company hopes to have the balls in stores by next fall. The playground version of the basketball will sell for around $18, but it won't be called the Hole-in-One. "The product name is undecided," says Nye. "We're trying to come up with something that covers the entire series of balls. The name will involve a skill-building, game-improving idea."

The name change doesn't bother Palmquist. "That's secondary," he says. "What's most important is that a lot of people think they're very good practice balls. They help build confidence."

O.K., now that we can palm the ball, let's discuss lowering the basket two feet.

PHOTODAVID WALBERGPalmquist's discovery should make all inflatable balls—not just basketballs—easier to handle.

Jay Feldman has written a number of stories for Sports Illustrated.

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