The Bizarre Cable Sports Hall of Fame: Slamball

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The American sporting landscape contains many of the best-known and most lucrative entities in the world: the NBA, Major League Baseball… I’m sure you’re familiar with the entire list. Millions watch, and the TV rights are very expensive. So you typically find major networks like ESPN or NBC airing sporting events. Even ESPN, the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports, can’t fill its seemingly endless lineup of channels (ESPN Deportes News Radio 3) with anything of mainstream import 24/7, as anyone who’s seen professional bowling, World’s Strongest Man contests, billiards trick shots, or poker marathons can attest.

So, if even ESPN isn’t giving the masses what they want on a constant basis, what could non-sports channels on cable possibly bring to the table, in terms of sports programming? Turns out either a lot or nothing, depending on your view. Here is but one of many notable examples.

Slamball

First and foremost, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there is no way that anyone older than 12 invented Slamball. Or, rather, nobody over 12 AND sober invented Slamball. For the uninitiated, Slamball is simply basketball, except played on an array of trampolines scattered throughout the court. Three seasons of Slamball were apparently played between 2002 and 2008 (perhaps Slamball is only played in years where the groundhog sees its shadow.) During my exhaustive scan of the Internet in search of Slamball ephemera, I uncovered a few interesting facts about this game, most of which you can glean from this video:

But I’ll give you the most important points. The trampolines were only on the parts of the court that people would typically shoot from, and everywhere in the middle was just a normal floor, except you were allowed to viciously TACKLE the dribbler without being called for a foul. If you messed around too much without getting on the trampolines, you were going to get hit. They really, really wanted you to get onto the trampolines, as if that wasn’t already clear.

The teams were called Rumble, Diablos, Riders, Bouncers, Steal, Mob, and Slashers. There were no city names attached, and not even any logos. I guess most of the team names made sense, except Steal. You can’t just name a team a verb. I bet nobody wanted to play for Steal; that’s probably why they went 2-8 in the legendary 2003 Slamball season, which was won by Riders, for those keeping score at home.

There is a sentence on the Slamball Wikipedia page, not cited, that says Slamball is coming back, and that there are two teams in Guam, called the Tamuning Chelus and the Dededo Koko Birds, that apparently want in on this.

According to Wikipedia, the executive producer of Slamball was a man named Mike Tollin. Mike Tollin’s other production credits include “All That”, “Kenan and Kel”, and “The Amanda Show.” This angers me, because of the missed crossover opportunities: halftime performances by the dancing lobsters, games refereed by Judge Trudy, constant orange soda advertisements, courtside seats for Pierre Escargot (in his tub, naturally). This proves to me that Mike Tollin has very diverse tastes, but no sense of what the people want to see.

I’m about 99% sure that it’s possible to die a gruesome death playing Slamball.

This all might sound like I’m trying to disparage Slamball, but I say it has some value. For instance, imagine a movie from the ’80s that’s set in a dystopian future, where there’s an all-seeing New World Order ruling Earth. Now, imagine the sport that they would play to determine who dies and who lives. Isn’t it exactly Slamball? It’s a recognizable enough theme, with an absurd futuristic twist applied, not unlike Marty McFly’s automatically lacing shoes from Back To The Future Part 2. Slamball is a crazy page out of a sketchbook come to life, and if we can’t have our robot servants and chrome space houses, then we need to take hold of what we can.

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