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August 8, 2003 Columns No Comments

Slammin’ Slamball

by Michael Protos

It is a dimension energized by trampolines and commercialized by Pat Croce. It airs between so-called professional wrestling and Strippella – between mindless entertainment and . . . mindless entertainment. And it occupies the pit of television’s time slots and the pinnacle of its degradation. This is the dimension of insanity. It is an area which we call . . . The Basketball Twilight Zone.

But its creators call it Slamball.

Slamball is the spawn of Mason Gordon and is the evil stepchild of several sports – football, hockey, lacrosse, gymnastics and primarily basketball. The inbred result is a game that airs only on the soon-to-be-created Spike TV, which brags to be the first network for men.

Spike TV will replace TNN, which has desperately sought to purge its formerly less chauvinistic image as The Nashville Network, which for years played the most country-fied programming that could be found. The impending launch of Spike TV will forever erase any memory of non-stop square dancing marathons.

It is out of this primordial soup that Slamball evolved to claim the Monday 11 p.m. time slot to provide a disturbingly lame alternative to Monday Night Football. Slamball seeks to cash in on the thrill of the slam dunk, paired with the aggressive physical play of football, lacrosse and hockey.

The court:

Slamball’s curious existence depends entirely on four trampolines placed into the floor at each end of a basketball court surrounded by a Plexiglas wall. The court looks like a hardwood floor in a hockey rink. There are no boundaries in this game.

One trampoline lies in a rectangle essentially where the lane would be on a normal basketball court. Two more trampolines are to the left and right of this one, extending to the three point line. The fourth trampoline sits at the top of key and facilitates the massive 15- or 20-foot jams by players like the Diablos’ Anthony White.

The ballers:

White plays the gunner position for his team. Players armored in pads and helmets man the positions of handler, gunner and stopper. Monday’s game pitted the Diablos, coached by Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant, or more fondly known as “Kobe’s Daddy,” against the Slashers coached by Kevin Stapleton, who might be the whitest man alive. He’s so white he probably has to wear sunscreen in the moonlight.

Handlers move the ball up the court, bearing the faintest resemblance to a point guard. And I do mean faintest resemblance. Gunners resemble the slashing scorers found in collegiate and professional basketball, except the success of Slamball players are dependent on trampolines to attack the basket.

But it is the stopper that provides the true thrill to Slamball. This man shoulders the responsibility of jumping between flying freaks and the hoop. The Slashers’ Adam Hooker, a rookie this season, demonstrated the art of his craft. Hooker’s position requires intelligence to properly time jumps and select the best angles to defend a brutal attempt to rocket the ball through the padded rim. Hooker repeatedly timed his trampoline-fueled jumps perfectly to knock away savage dunks.

The Phoenix Suns’ Shawn Marion assisted with the game’s commentary while recent Louisville-hire Reggie Theus and Pat Croce, the former heart-and-soul of the Philadelphia 76ers, provided inspirational analysis at halftime and after the game. Croce almost made me believe I was watching a serious sport. Almost.

The Diablos won the game after trailing at halftime. Bryant inspired his team to assault the Slashers in the third quarter and to smack down a late fourth quarter rally.

The rules:

Perhaps a couple rules will explain the motivation of the game’s creators. Dunks are worth three points while other shots are worth only two. There are no free throws. Instead players settle the few fouls actually called with a face-off. A defender seeks to bounce his way to the hoop on the trampolines before the attacking player can slam home a dunk. After the face-off, the offense gets the ball back.

Another noteworthy rule is the 15-second shot clock. The game is meant to be fast and furious. In the first televised game of the sport’s second season, officials seemed to enforce the rules with the consistency of a corrupt police precinct.

There are eight teams in the Slamball league. Each team plays with four men on the court with four reserves, who can come into the game through line shifts, a la hockey. Hooker played the entire game for the Slashers as their star stopper. He earned his spot on a Slamball roster for the first time this season.

The hype:

Slamball toured the United States – in Orlando, Atlanta, Chicago, Philly and L.A. – to find the second generation of Slamball players. Last season’s veterans competed with the recruits during a training camp in L.A., after which coaches drafted their teams. TNN/the first network for men/Spike TV taped this tour and training camp and played it Monday at 8 p.m. for the thrill of both diehard Slamball fans who just couldn’t wait till 11 p.m. for the start of the second season.

Like any good reality show, several wannabe Slamballers earned the sympathy of the three viewers who actually watched the show. Would they get drafted? Would they excel in training camp against veterans? Most washed out.

The injury:

Perhaps the defining moment of Slamball’s insanity was the horrific injury suffered by one poor recruit. Apparently, there is danger when men are flying off trampolines toward a basket. Who’d have thought?

Well, one unfortunate soul propelled himself off the trampoline and offered a short range jumper. Padded medians divide the four trampolines, but unfortunately they offer no support when one lands with the full force of a trampoline-induced jump on one’s ankle.

The force of the impact essentially severed the man’s ankle so that it was only dangling by skin. The program showed him collapsed on the trampoline, and it looked like someone else’s foot was laying next to his body. At that point, I’m positive the other two viewers turned the channel to the preseason NFL game between Green Bay and Kansas City, leaving me to yell out in horror at this hideous injury.

Never will I step onto a basketball court that has trampolines anywhere near it.

The bottom line:

So why do I harbor ill will toward Slamball? Well, for one, I can never erase the image of a man’s ankle dangling like a hangnail. But beyond that one moment of horror, the game is actually rather boring. The novelty wears off quickly as not-really-talented ballers essentially dunk until you yearn for a mid-range jumper. The defense is poor and essentially dependent on as much contact as the referees will allow.

If you want some mindless entertainment and never tire of men flying 10 feet high and dunking and slamming into each other and floundering about, then go ahead and tune in to Spike TV Monday nights at 11. You might as well make a night of it and catch the lunacy of WWE Raw and the cartoonized Pamela Anderson of Stripperella.

Must see TV, let me tell you.


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