For the most part, basketballs have remained the same for many decades now. Sure, some will use leather while others will use various types of synthetic composites, but the general construction, look, feel, and behavior of the basketball has, pretty much, remained the same. The Wilson Airless Basketball is looking to change that.
As the name implies, this basketball isn’t pressurized with air like standard versions used in games around the world. In fact, there’s no air in the ball whatsoever, as the darn thing is actually perforated with tiny holes that allow air to simply pass through unimpeded. Despite that, it’s able to closely replicate the weight, size, and even the bounce of a traditional basketball, making it a great starting point for what could be the basketball of the future.
The Wilson Airless Basketball is a 3D-printed ball made from a proprietary custom elastomeric material in the form of a powdered resin. Instead of layering melted plastic like traditional 3D printing, this process involved extruding that powdered resin, which is then hardened by a laser, allowing them to fabricate really thin layers with intricate detail. According to the outfit, the elastomeric material was key to the design, as everything else they tried before it either eventually broke or failed to bounce. This one, however, is able to bounce the way you’d expect a basketball to do.
They paired that material with a lattice geometry made up of hexagon-shaped holes that complemented it, churning out an object that can both absorb and return energy, depending on how it’s handled. From there, the fabricated ball is dyed in whatever color they want, with the outfit opting for an all-black version when presenting the ball to the public for the first time at the 2023 NBA All-Star Weekend festivities.
While the Wilson Airless Basketball wasn’t used in the All-Star Game, it did have prominent placement in the dunk contest. Specifically, KJ Martin used the prototype ball for his 2nd dunk, which saw his father bank the ball against the board and Martin catching it in mid-air before dumping it in the rim with two hands. According to Martin, the overall feel of the ball is noticeably different to the feel of the leather basketballs that the NBA use, although it grips, dribbles, and shoots in a very similar manner. As such, the prototype offers great promise, although we doubt we’ll be seeing it come to stores any time soon.
According to Wilson, they still plan to do a lot of work on the ball, which probably bodes well for its future iterations. With that said, we wouldn’t be surprised to see this design replace the traditional basketballs we use today, as it does offer very distinct advantages, chief of which is eliminating the need to inflate the ball (which means, it will never deflate like a regular basketball as well). Once they’re able to perfect this, it probably won’t be long till the same concept moves on to balls in other sports, too.
You can learn more about the Wilson Airless Basketball below.