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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Latest made-for-TV sport is not a slam dunk

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Flipping through the endless maze of channels on mini-dish satellite TV late one night last week, I gave my remote a break when I landed on TNN.

TNN, formerly known as The Nashville Network, is currently in the process of undergoing another name change, this time to Spike TV, and they bill themselves as "The first network for men" (gee, if this is true, I wonder who ESPN's target audience is).

What caught my eye however, was not the network's promos for their "adult cartoons" or CSI reruns, but rather a spot for a game called Slamball. The video-game looking commercial had plenty of flash and sizzle, and I was intrigued enough that I decided to watch the feature game that was on later that night.

Slamball is a game the network touts as having, "The power of football, the contact of hockey and the speed and grace of basketball. The first extreme sport."

The game consists of four-on-four basketball played on a court with four trampolines built into the floor around the basket area. The perimeter of the court is surrounded with Plexiglas sideboards like those at a hockey rink.

The object of the game, like basketball, is to put the ball through the 10-foot off the ground hoop. Jumpers are worth two points in Slamball, while a slamdunk is worth three (almost the exact opposite of conventional hoops). Oh, and the players wear protective padding, making body checking and forearms to the torso legal.

The offensive players launch themselves at the hoop from the tramps, sometimes flying eight feet in the air from 15 feet away from the basket, while the defenders do the same in an attempt to batter the shooters and block their scoring chances.

At first glance I thought this was kind of cool, but the more I watched, the more I realized this was less a sport than it was a made-for-TV event, much along the lines of "American Gladiator" or even the short-lived XFL.

I am certain the athletes are real, as are the injuries.

During this year's training camp that was held prior to the start of the season, Tom Zelski, a rookie, misjudged his landing after taking off from a tramp, landing on one of the support pads, nearing severing his ankle from his leg in the process.

The rosters of the 64-player league are littered with former college and street ball players, all hoping to extend their playing days by any means necessary. A quick look over the league's rosters shows former Arkansas State Indian and star of the 1994 documentary "Hoop Dreams," Arthur Agee, as the player with the best name recognition.

The league, in its second season (I must have slept through season one), plays its games at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, and the games are shown tape delayed on TNN.

Airing immediately following TNN's WWE Raw, and with team names like Bandits, Bouncers, Diablos and Slashers, I'd say the network is counting on a big carryover from their weekly pro wrestling show to bolster ratings.

If the network really wanted to show full contact basketball, they should look on the many playgrounds across the United States where martial law and "no blood, no foul," rules.

Perhaps sending a camera crew to the blacktops of famed Rucker Park in Harlem would be a good place to start.

This is where real basketball is played, cameras or not. All aspiring New York City playground legends head to Rucker to prove themselves, playing a kind of ball that really tests one's manhood.

At Rucker, they go hard or they go home, all without protective padding or the aid of artificial heighteners, and with the hot asphalt waiting to cushion the blow of being slammed to the ground.

Filming at Rucker would save TNN enormous production costs, and the network might even capture the first look at a future NBA star, something that definitely does not apply to the hopefuls playing Slamball.

As for the Slamball game I watched, the Diablos came back from a six-point halftime deficit to beat the Slashers 47-46 behind former USC Trojan Anthony White's (the basketball player, not the great USC running back) 18 points. One good thing about showing games tape delayed is the network has the advantage of showing games that are close instead of televising blowouts.

So if you want to catch a game of Slamball, you might want to do it fairly quickly. I think the shelf life of this product is already headed toward its expiration date.

But don't panic.

For other made-for-TV bizarreness, check out the second season of ESPN's weekly outdoor program, "The New American Sportsman." This year's host is none other than that famed outdoorsman, Deion Sanders. Yes, that Deion Sanders. Can't wait to see how well Prime Time looks wearing a camo Armani suit.

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