Slamball is an alternative/extreme/fringe sport, based on basketball with elements of hockey and American football, and most importantly -- aided by trampolines. They prefer the term "competition springbeds", or "tramps". We took a one-hour trip down to the middle of Line 5 a few weeks ago to find that yes, this sport is every bit as rad and perilous as it sounds.
How Shanghai does Slamball
The game started back in around 2000 when a dude named Mason Gordon decided, "Hey let's make a basketball video game in real life," and secured funding from some major investors like Mike Tollin, the guy who produced the TV show Smallville. Then they made a court in an East Los Angeles warehouse, got picked up by Spike TV, blew up for a while, then kind of slowed down, appearing sporadically in places like the CBS Sports TV network and in Italy and Australia.
[Stan "Shakes" Fletcher, coach of the Shanghai Slashers and total badman]
Now Slamball has reappeared in China, just like Avril Lavigne or Mr. Big. Shanghai's professional development team, the Shanghai Slashers, is coached by Stan "Shakes" Fletcher, a man who some YouTube commenters regard as "THE BEST SLAMBALL PLAYER IN THE WORLD." Hell of a nice guy.
One of the Shanghai Slashers development players burning down the house
Compared with basketball, the court is smaller and each team has four players on the court at a time, with substitution on the fly like in hockey. No need for a time out, which there are fewer of than in traditional basketball. Slamball uses the same ball, same basket, same passing rules, except you can pass to yourself, which is necessary to avoid traveling when jumping around on multiple springbeds. Shots behind the three-point line are still worth three points, but so are dunks.
Inside of the three-point line you'll find the "quads" – four 7ft by 14ft (2.1m by 4.2 m.) springbeds. Between each of these is some foam padding that's strong enough to stand on and bounce a ball off. The springbeds allow players to jump as high as 17 feet in the air according to the official Slamball website's FAQ.
Obviously these springbeds allow for real life NBA Jam dunks, but also let players swat away three pointers and jump shots in ways that even pro basketball players couldn't do on a regular court.
Landing on the wood outside of the springbeds doesn't hurt as much either because the wood is also spring-loaded. There are even professional Slamball shoes with added ankle support.
Moon shoes that allegedly reduce ankle injuries by 40%
Another huge difference is how fouls are handled. Basically, anything goes outside of the springbed area. No blood, no foul. But once a player enters the springbed zone you can't touch them. In the event of a foul, they don't do free throws. Instead, players enter what's called a "face off." That's a one-on-one battle where the guy who got fouled drives against the player who fouled him. Here's what that looks like:
Also, players only get three fouls instead of the normal five. There are more rules and nuances too, but if you're just going down there to play for an afternoon, you'll probably spend most of the time acclimating to your newfound superpowers. Or if you don't feel like playing, you cand just watch the development team practice while sipping Tsingtao for 10rmb.
About those dunks. We had Stan Fletcher and a couple of the development players strap on the SmartShanghai GoPro and get nasty.
...IS IT SAFE??
Trampolines -- super fun and super dangerous. Having eight trampolines with eight people flying around trying to dunk a basketball clearly increases the danger level. Turn down for what? Ummm...Torn ligaments. Broken ankles. Concussions. Neck injuries. Here's a good reason to play it safe:
Luckily none of that happened to us. Basically, don't overstep your abilities. We could have gotten crazier, sure, but that's kind of like driving a sports car when you don't really know what you're doing. Best to take it slow. Before playing on the full-sized court, we had a safety class where we learned how to fall. You'll have to sign a waiver, too. Any injuries -- that's on you.
Like dodgeball, ultimate frisbee, Tri Federation, or Exhibition Shirling, Slamball may remain a fringe sport. The cost of setting up a court, the necessary insurance, and the inherent danger limit its ability to become the next soccer. But like skateboarding, it's way more fun to watch than the aforementioned sports. People love acrobat shows and basketball in China, so who knows? Maybe this will get really popular here.
When we went down to the court, we found not only an intense team of professional development players but also a group of about 25 female students from Jiaotong University. Some were throwing down dunks. I guess kids in China probably don't grow up with trampolines, because most of them don't have yards. Everyone was having a great time.
So is Slamball worth a one-hour trip down to Minhang? Definitely, especially considering they only charge 100rmb for two hours. At the end, we were drenched in sweat, and the next day our calves ached like we had hiked a mountain. Just don't jump too close to the rim, because you will get knocked the fuck out.