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KJ Martin & Wilson to Debut First-ever 3D Printed Basketball

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
Both leather and air take a holiday as this year’s Slam Dunk Contest offers a sneak peak at the game’s next innovation.

KJ Martin, the high-flying Houston Rockets wing and spawn of proud pops, Kenyon, is no stranger to NBA All-Star Weekend.

Just weeks after his third birthday, his father made noise by blocking shots and banging dunks as a member of the East squad at what was then Staples Center.

This weekend in Utah, Junior takes centerstage, partaking in the 2023 AT&T Slam Dunk Contest. His performance will feature his trademarked acrobatic assaults on the rim, as will as an innovation in basketball that no one saw coming.

As he takes flight, Martin will be the keynote presenter for Wilson’s 3D Airless Prototype Basketball.

It’s a giant leap for Wilson and a big look for Martin.

The ball is set to make its public debut during one of Martin’s many slam dunks. Afraid of the future? Even the 22-year-old was awestruck when presented with the all-black ball devoid of leather and air.

“When I saw it in person?” Martin told Boardroom. “I didn’t expect it to bounce like a normal basketball. But it did.”

For those keen on 3D printing technology, the phenomenon has been used to build houses and fast-track footwear. However, making its way to sporting goods provides a new narrative.

Not only awe-inspiring in aesthetic, it offers favorable function.

“The most important feature of the Airless Prototype is that it is a single-piece ball that bounces like a regular basketball without requiring inflation,” Dr. Nadine Lippa, Innovation Manager at Wilson, told Boardroom.

Out in Chicago at Wilson’s Innovation Center, the Labs team created the airless ball in collaboration with General Lattice, DyeMansion, and EOS.

“Basketballs have been made using largely the same methods and materials for decades,” Lippa said. “By breaking out of these methods, we open up opportunities to create higher performing, more sustainable products that can be produced quickly and locally.”

via Wilson

The result is a first-of-its kind 3D printed ball that is playable, aligning almost exactly with the specifications of a regulation ball when it comes to size, weight, and bounce.

“I can palm it and dribble it well,” Martin said. “[Wilson] sponsors the NBA and the basketball I use everyday. Since I was younger, I was always playing with their basketballs whether it was in the backyard or playing in AAU tournaments. It’s something new. It shows where technology is.”

Not needing a needle or any air to inflate, the black lattice lobes offer an aesthetic unlike that of their traditional game ball.

At this time, the league isn’t moving to a 3D printed ball. However, Martin’s leap of faith by playing with the prototype on live television might hint at where the game is going.

“There is still work to do,” Lippa said. “But Wilson is leading the way by taking the necessary steps to reimagine basketball manufacturing and performance.”

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About The Author
Ian Stonebrook
Ian Stonebrook
Ian Stonebrook is a Staff Writer covering culture, sports, and fashion for Boardroom. Prior to signing on, Ian spent a decade at Nice Kicks as a writer and editor. Over the course of his career, he's been published by the likes of Complex, Jordan Brand, GOAT, Cali BBQ Media, SoleSavy, and 19Nine. Ian spends all his free time hooping and he's heard on multiple occasions that Drake and Nas have read his work, so that's pretty tight.