Feb 22, 2023 - Sports

Basketball of future built near Austin

KJ Martin handles a prototype ball.

K.J. Martin of the Houston Rockets handles a prototype basketball at the 2023 NBA All Star AT&T Slam Dunk Contest on February 18 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

A prototype basketball that could revolutionize the sport and featured in last weekend's NBA All-Star dunk contest was built in Pflugerville.

Driving the news: ​​The 3D Airless Prototype Basketball, designed by Wilson Sporting Goods Co., was made just north of Austin, at the lab of 3D printing company EOS.

  • The ball looks like a giant black Wiffle ball.
  • Houston Rockets star K.J. Martin used the ball in the contest — but didn't win.

Why it matters: Basketball pickup players everywhere could soon avoid annoying pre-game conversations about which ball has the right amount of air.

What they're saying: "The quality control was mind-blowing," Jon Walker, business development manager at EOS, tells Axios.

  • The company traditionally works with automotive, aerospace and medical device companies to build everything from rocket components to hip replacements.
  • EOS sent a ball a day to Wilson's test facility in Ohio, and received daily feedback about its bounce, roll and roundness.
A prototype of the ball during its construction.
A prototype of the ball during its construction. Photo: Courtesy of Wilson

How it works: A laser sweeping across a powder bed, over and over again in an etch-a-sketch fashion, builds up the basketball, Nadine Lippa, innovation manager at Wilson, said in a video.

  • Even something as small as adding a logo to the ball could change its mass distribution.
  • Because it's a ball, "you're trying to get something to uniformly respond in all directions in the same way," Dave Krzeminski, a consulting engineer at EOS, tells Axios.

Context: Spalding offers a "NeverFlat" model — but, per the company's description, it's good for a year.

  • The new Wilson model can't deflate because there's no closed-off inside space.

The challenge: Building a basketball that's truly playable, with that just-right bounce — a journey that took Wilson years as it sorted through material combinations.

  • The ball, comprised of black see-through lattice, nearly fits the performance specifications of a regulation NBA basketball including its weight and size, per Wilson.
  • "Once I actually saw the ball in person, it was crazy," Martin told Forbes. "I didn’t expect a basketball with holes to bounce and feel like a normal leather basketball."

Between the lines: The basketball is almost silent while it's dribbled, Krzeminski says.

  • For proprietary reasons, EOS would not disclose the material used in the ball except to say it's made of an elastomer.

What's next: Lippa, the Wilson innovation manager, tells Axios she is "confident" the airless ball will be available to the general public "in the next year or so."


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Austin.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Austin stories


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Austin.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more