CHICAGO – It was quite a spectacle during an event that’s already known for its theatrics in February.

At the NBA Slam Dunk Contest in Salt Lake City, a case with a very unique basketball was wheeled out in a glass case to the court by two people wearing white suits. The glass was opened and this unique black ball was pulled out of the case by longtime NBA player Kenyon Martin.

He turned around and handed it to his son, Rockets guard KJ, who got a feel for it before giving it back to his father. A minute later, Kenyon tossed the ball off the backboard to his son for the slam.

While Martin didn’t win the dunk contest, he had arguably one of the more unique moments of the competition: The was pulled off with a basketball that didn’t have any air.

(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Wilson debuted its 3-D printed airless prototype basketball during NBA All-Star Weekend with the showcase being that dunk from the Rockets’ guard. The company came up with the 3D design for the ball, but they needed help to bring it to life.

That’s where a company in Chicago comes in.

(Courtesy: General Lattice)

General Lattice is based in the city that was formed in 2019 by Nick Florek (CEO), Alex Rhoades (COO), and Marek Moffett (Chief Innovation Officer). The company designs and builds digital materials, and their expertise came in handy for this project from Wilson.

Joining the effort with three companies, General Lattice would be in charge of the computational design of the basketball to start things off.

“It was a really sophisticated structure at a high level. A bunch of hexagons on a hemisphere” said Moffett of the idea presented to them by Wilson for the airless basketball. “From a technical point of view, that’s really tricky to do from a modeling point of view. So we came in and just supplied some different modeling different techniques and tools that allowed applying this difficult structure much easier.”

After they took care of the design, the EOS company printed their airless basketball prototype and DyeMansion provided the finishing surfacing along with the color.

“What’s unique about this story I think is how there was such a joint effort in the additive manufacturing community to actually see each part of the product through all the way to getting it to the dunk contest,” said Florek.

(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Having it there for everyone to see was quite a moment for all three companies as their efforts over the course of a year came to fruition on one of the NBA’s biggest stages.

“Absolutely humbling,” said Moffett of seeing Martin dunk with the basketball.

For those in General Lattice, it provides another opportunity to show many people how digital manufacturing can produce a wide variety of products now and in the future. That basketball is just the start of what 3D printing can create as time goes along.

“Using a digital material to replace a traditional product like a basketball but do something in a totally different design is really awesome,” said Florek. “I think it’s a great highlight of what the potential of digital materials can do.”

Larry Hawley has more on the development of this airless basketball from WGN News Now in the video above.