SlamBall began in a small warehouse in Los Angeles on a makeshift court cobbled together from spare parts. The beginning of the idea started with the ambition to create a fully realized sport that was inspired by the strategies, aesthetics and pacing of video games. I thought about a sport where the athletes fly higher and hit harder – performing feats that were once the exclusive domain of the pixelated athletes from Playstation, Xbox and Nintendo.
I had grown up with the earliest examples of the UFC and their mixing of different kind of fighting styles, so SlamBall quickly found form as a mash-up team sport derived from various elements of basketball, football, hockey and gymnastics.
I took SlamBall to Mike Tollin, a genius producer who has brought to the screen sports-themed and other projects like ARLI$$, Coach Carter, Wild Hogs, Smallville, Bronx is Burning and Radio. He thought I was crazy at first, but I kept coming and I kept talking to him about how great SlamBall could become. He saw that I was either insane or I was onto something and he committed to work with me to develop the game.
We’ve been working together ever since to build the sport to global awareness and an international infrastructure.
I built the first half-court to train five players at the outset. I had rough ideas about the rules and game play, but needed real on-the-court R&D to make it work. I recruited dexterous, aggressive athletes from multiple sports backgrounds.
James Willis, Michael Goldman, Sean Jackson, David Redmond and Jeff Sheridan worked with me on the court for long hours as the game found it’s basic structure in the earliest weeks. Jeff was a football player from Chicago, James and David were college basketball players, Sean was an LA streetball guy and Michael was a Jewish All-American high school basketball star. We were a strange collection of athletes, but within minutes of being on the court, everyone could see where their skills fit in and how they could all work together. It all just made sense.
Shortly afterwards, the first full court was constructed and I started pulling in additional players, which included Stan “Shakes” Fletcher, Rob Wilson and Dion Mays, who collectively raised the bar for SlamBall’s creativity and physicality. The game took shape as a 4-on-4 full court game with non-stop hockey-style substitutions. Jeff and Dion, the two guys with football backgrounds, started lighting people up in the open floor. The basketball guys didn’t like it at first, but then they started getting into it when they got to pancake the opposition (most of the time, me). The spring floor provided a phenomenal safety feature and guys could play a high-impact game for hours at full speed. The first two teams, the Mob and the Rumble played a series of games on a full court in East Los Angeles in front of a frenzied crowd. Mike got the TV people down to the warehouse and we immediately won a cable contract with what would soon become Spike TV.
Series 1 – Gamechanger
SlamBall’s debut on Spike TV was covered by ESPN’s Sportscenter, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Time Magazine and many more premium news outlets. SlamBall’s high-flying, hard-hitting roots were refined and developed by coaches we recruited to incorporate real offensive concepts and defensive philosophies.
The Mob and Rumble were joined by the Diablos, Steal, Bouncers and Slashers. The first overall draft pick was Rob Wilson, a 6’9” 250lb Stopper out of Toronto, Canada and a holdover from the East LA series. Wilson was a top flight professional basketball player overseas and helped set a professional tone among the motley collection of athletes gathered for the initial season.
The action from the first series was inspired and saw some of the most amazing plays anywhere in sports. The rapidly-developing strategies started to be effective and teams developed personalities around their stars, including the Mob’s smash-mouth football-style and the Rumble’s smug bad-boy swagger.
Top performers in the first series made the All-SlamBall team. Sean Jackson and Stan Fletcher were explosive. David Jackson, a Va Tech basketball player, was unreal in leading the Diablos to the championship game and Dion Mays was the League MVP. The Rumble captured the first SlamBall championship and Coach Carter (Yes, THAT Coach Carter) hoisted the trophy.
Series 2 – Rise of the Super Stoppers
SlamBall’s second series brought the defense into the fore as a new wave of defensive dreadnoughts took the league by storm. These premiere Stoppers, including Adam Hooker, George Byrd, Rodney Bond and Kevin Cassidy were a revolution at the backline, posting mind-blowing stats including Adam Hooker’s record 36 stops in a single game. This wave of Stoppers averaged north of 20 stops per game, dramatically up from the top first season average or nine or so. This defensive development spurred the offense into more and more complex patterns that were necessary to outmaneuver the Stopper. You couldn’t just go straight at the defense and score at a high percentage. You needed to misdirect the defense and work with your teammates to score.
The defending champion Rumble ran out to a ludicrous 9-1 regular season record, led by league MVP Jelani Janisse, but that single loss to the Slashers proved costly, as the Josh Carlson-led Slashers upset the Rumble in the semi-finals. The expansion Riders team staged a cinderella run to the title, led by George Byrd, Calvin Patterson and James “Champ” Willis, a Rumble castoff who raised the trophy having led two separate teams to back-to-back championships in successive seasons, a feat never matched since in the sport.
Series 3 – A Global Phenomenon
The third series of SlamBall was a global phenomenon, as the game was, for the first time, widely distributed overseas on major outlets like Mediaset (Italy), CCTV (China), Cuatro (Spain) and Asia (AXN), gaining real traction as a sport. This exposure has since poised the game for US and international expansion. Teams, players and coaches all came into the season looking to make a statement, including NBA legends Kenny Anderson and John Starks. In the most fiercely contested season to date, CBS broadcast the game and it posted impressive ratings opposite the NFL on Fox and NASCAR on ABC.
Mob gunner LaMonica Garrett led the league in scoring and Stan “Shakes” Fletcher continued developing his ludicrous repertoire of creative offensive moves including the all new innovation, “The Shakedown”. The Slashers handler Corey Beezhold exploded onto the SlamBall scene with a phenomenal set of skills, teaming with gunner Scott Campbell to lead a run to the championship game to face the ever-dominant Rumble team. Adam Hooker, their phenomenal Stopper, won the MVP award, behind an otherworldly two-handed block in the closing moments of the championship game on a powerful dunk attempt by the near-unstoppable Jelani Janisse.
Series 4 – International Expansion
SlamBall exploded into China on CCTV5, the largest national channel dedicated to sports. SlamBall posted impressive TV ratings, driven entirely by word of mouth and the shareable qualities of the games. This led to the establishment of SlamBall Asia and the first World Championship Series held outside of the USA. The first International series was hosted in Hangzhou and became a national story.
Series 4 marked the elite emergence of MOB handler Noah Ballou into a veritable unstoppable talent in every facet of the game and his ascension to premiere assist leader in the sport. Also notable was the breakout of 5’8″ Chinese MOB gunner Lu Feng, who shocked the American players with his aggressive play and fearlessness. Feng’s development is a singular moment in the sport and a clear indicator that SlamBall stars will come from every country and corner of the globe.
SlamBall recently held the Series 5 World Championships in Beijing and is moving ahead with plans for Series 6 to be held in the US with International players participating.