Wilson 3D-Printed Basketball Takes the Air Out of the Game

The rules defining major sports like soccer, football, baseball, and basketball tend to evolve more quickly than the equipment used in competition. Baseballs, bats, and basketballs generally look the same today as they did decades ago, and any changes to official game equipment can invite a great deal of scrutiny amongst players and fans alike. But no sport is immune to change, as recently illustrated by the introduction of the 2022 FIFA World Cup spatial positioning sensor soccer balls designed by adidas. And the official launch of the Wilson Airless Gen1 Basketball hints it may only be a matter of time before the NBA and its international counterpart, FIBA, invite a similar change to basketball at its most essential level.

A trio of 3D printed Wilson Gen1 basketball in brown, black and white set against an all-black background with subtle blue glow behind the three.

The name says it all: the Wilson Airless Gen1 Basketball is a first-of-its-kind 3D-printed basketball engineered to bounce without an inflated air bladder inside. The next-generation basketball is printed rather than stitched, featuring a see-through lattice pattern complete with channels mimicking its standard eight panel predecessor. The result is a basketball with enough bounce per ounce to be dribbled, passed, and shot as its air-filled counterpart, sans the need to be inflated.

Orange Wilson synthetic rubber basketball against gradient blue background

Basketball’s origin spans all the way back to 1891 when physical education instructor Dr. James Naismith, at the now Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts, designed the game to keep students active during the colder months of the year. Originally, peach baskets were used for rims alongside a soccer-style laced leather ball.

3D render of 3D-printed Wilson Gen1 basketball in blue-gray, emerging from plumes of dust clouds behind it

The first working airless prototype basketball was unveiled last year by Wilson around this same time during the 2023 NBA All-Star Weekend. The see-through ball made its official appearance in the first round of the AT&T Slam Dunk Contest, with Houston Rockets’ player KJ Martin using an early prototype. Wilson has continued to refine the ball’s color and finish solution since then, including a modification to the additive manufacturing process.

Detail of the all-black additive 3D-printed Wilson Gen1 basketball's small "AIRLESS GEN1" label

A trio of 3D printed Wilson Gen1 basketball in brown, black and white lined up diagonally against an all-black background.

The select few fortunate enough to secure one of the 200 first balls had their choice of Jet Black, Natural, or Brown.

Before you lace your Jordans and get overly excited about the premise of getting your hands on one of these new Wilson Airless Gen1 Basketballs, it’s important to note Wilson only released 200 of these 3D-printed balls. This first batch was priced at $2,500 each, but they’re already sold out. You can sign up here to be alerted about future releases.

The ball’s limited availability and its well beyond the 3-point line pricing reflects how hard it is to scale the additive 3D design currently. But like a Steph Curry step-back trey, chances are strongly in favor of Wilson fine tuning their airless design toward changing the game forever.

Gregory Han is a Senior Editor at Design Milk. A Los Angeles native with a profound love and curiosity for design, hiking, tide pools, and road trips, a selection of his adventures and musings can be found at gregoryhan.com.

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