Photo courtesy of Wilson Sporting Goods / YouTube.

Do you remember the first time you held a basketball? 

The rough, yet rubbery scale-like feeling are fond memories for some around the world. And one of the most frustrating moments for these people is when the ball has low air pressure. 

But what if there’s a way where you didn’t have to worry about that anymore? Not even in the NBA or WNBA? 

Sounds too good to be true, but Dr. Nadine Lippa, an innovation manager at Wilson Sporting Goods, took on the task of reinventing the basketball.   

During the winter of 1891, 30-year-old Springfield college professor James Naismith created the game that many love today. While there have been many phases of the basketball itself, it started out with four phases:

  1. Creating the inner bladder 
  2. Shaping the interior of the basketball
  3. Making the cover of the basketball
  4. Final testing and analysis 
Professor James Naismith who is credited for creating the game of basketball. (Courtesy of Pounding The Rock)

With the process comes melting and throwing away rubber while creating and fitting the material to the ball itself. Polyester and nylon are also added to help shape the ball with the help of a machine. Professional balls use nylon while street basketballs use polyester threads. High quality balls use synthetic rubber to imprint logos or any graphics are done by hand.

Then they are tested for bounce quality. If the dimensions are right, it is ready to go. 

With Dr. Lippa’s creation and the use of “additive manufacturing,” a type of 3D printing that can build precise symmetric shapes like spheres by printing in 2D layers, then are almost “etch a-sketched” down to a white powder allowing for a perfect ball every time. 

Nadine stated that it took her and the team almost several years to complete in the lab to create a ball that checks all boxes. 

During this year’s All Star Weekend’s Slam Dunk Contest in Salt Lake City, Houston Rockets forward Kenyon Martin Jr. showcased the airless prototype for the first time. 

He stated that even though he thought the ball “looked crazy,” it bounced and felt like a normal basketball. 

K.J. Martin shows off the airless basketball prototype from Wilson he will use in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star events in Salt Lake City. (Courtesy of Wilson)

Tennis rackets are another example of technology replacing old methods to create sports equipment. For years the racket was created from solid wood with strings made of animal intestines to robot-built ultralight carbon fiber structures. Today, they’re built with graphite strips which are wrapped around the racket mold.

The rugby ball is also now made with built in sensors to stop forward passes, thanks to technology. 

Still, some sports balls create waste when made. But Renewaball, a company that invented a technology to recycle discarded tennis balls into brand new ones, has worked to cut the waste. Previously, over 325 million tennis balls that were made resulted in 22,000 tons of non-biodegradable waste. 

Sustainability and reducing waste with Lippa’s invention could save thousands of pounds of used material from soccer balls, footballs and basketballs that are made for use around the world.

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