Twelve feet off the floor, just about at eye level with the top of
the backboard, Sean Jackson, a.k.a. Inches, has a decision to
make. Should he put down a conventional slam? Or does he have
sufficient hang time to do a 360 and put the ball between his
legs before dunking? Inches decides that he does, and seconds
later a studio audience of about 250 has witnessed Slamball's
first official Mac Nasty, Jackson's name for his patented dunk.
You, too, will be able to witness Inches's feat, plus those of
Ghetto Bird, Tank and Lilgetdown this summer when Slamball,
billed as the world's first extreme team sport, will air on TNN.
The six-team round-robin competition was held recently in a
specially constructed arena in Los Angeles--specially constructed
since even a highflier like Jackson needs a trampoline to get
that much air. Competitors have been sworn to silence about the
results. Find a player though, and he will tell you about
Inches's dunk, and probably one he made himself.
Slamball looks like a live-action video game, which is exactly
the point. "My generation feels disenfranchised from conventional
team sports," says Mason Gordon, 27, Slamball's James Naismith.
"This is a sport for those kids who were brought up with computer
games but still like action." Coming across a Slamball game, as
actor Ben Stiller did during the taping, one will suddenly see a
player pogo-sticking off the floor and depositing a dunk from
well above the basket. The players wear padded headgear and
Rollerballesque pads. Balls can be played off the Plexiglas
surrounding the court. The effect is surreal. Stiller, who was
filming a movie at a nearby studio, was transfixed.
So was former Philadelphia 76ers president Pat Croce, who has
joined the Slamball project as an adviser to Tollin/Robbins
Productions and Telepictures Productions. Croce has become the
game's unofficial commissioner and full-time older-guy
cheerleader. "Hit him! Deck him!" Croce screamed during the
Slamball is played with 10-foot-high baskets on a court 55 feet
wide and 94 feet long. But there is an element of hockey too:
Players can be checked when not in the Slam Zone, the area near
the basket formed by four large trampolines. "I played a lot of
games like this at the Y," says ex-NBAer Reggie Theus, who did
color commentary. "Take it to the hoop, and get the crap knocked
out of you."
Gordon designed the game so that the majority of action takes
place in the Slam Zone. The shot clock is 15 seconds, so action
is almost continuous. In the game's typical confrontation, an
offensive player bounces off the wood (one hop is allowed here,
whereas many hops are allowed in the NBA) onto one of the tramps
and challenges the last defender, called the stopper. The stopper
is allowed to goaltend and make contact with the offensive
player. Springing high off the tramp--getting "ginormous air," as
play-by-play man Pat Parnell describes it--is crowd-pleasing, but
often the battle is won by the quick jumper, the player who
springs to the hoop and gets off the slam before the stopper is
at the apex of his defending jump.
One thing Slamball is not: pro wrestling. "We began with the idea
that there would be fighting, some scripted back stories and much
more posturing," says Mike Tollin, a director (Summer Catch),
producer (Varsity Blues) and the man for whom Gordon was working
as a gofer when Gordon drew up the game. "Fortunately, everyone
who saw the test tapes said, 'Get rid of that stuff.' So we did."
Croce, 47, has more or less adopted Inches, counseling him that
fan-friendly players are the key to success. "He's my new Bubba
Chuck," Croce says, using a nickname of Allen Iverson, to whom
Croce was close when he ran the Sixers. The 5'11" Jackson, 32,
has soaked up every word. "I've been hooping on the playground my
whole life, but I know this is my future," he said.
Well, there's no guarantee that Slamball is America's future,
and--Croce notwithstanding--the game isn't likely to attract the
interest of the graybeard crowd. But times have changed. "People
said there was no room on the mountain for snowboarders," says
Tollin, "and now they're winning gold medals."