There’s a moment when you walk on to the basketball court with the game ball in hand, giving it a toss to see how well it bounces, followed by a pounding dribble, just to see if the ball has been properly inflated. That ritual may become history with the introduction on February 16th of Wilson’s innovative Airless Gen 1 basketball that never needs inflating.

The 3-D printed Wilson ball arrives at retail in conjunction with the NBA Crossover concerts at the league’s All-Star Weekend event in Indianapolis. At a price of $2,500, NBA players may be the only ones who can afford it for the moment but they may be slow to adopt it at any price.

The Airless Gen 1 basketball is uniquely constructed. The 3D printed lattice structure features eight panel-like “lobes” that eliminate the need for inflation. Holes in the lattice work allow for the quick removal of loose powder after the 3D printing process is complete. The new balls are available in black, brown and a bony white and meet the NBA’s requirements regarding weight, size and bounce, according to Wilson. Each ball has a small customization panel where logos or other info can be displayed. The retail ball represents an evolution from a prototype unveiled at the 2023 NBA Slam Dunk competition.

The team behind the Airless Gen 1 basketball is a starting five in its own right. In addition to Wilson, General Lattice provided computational design services for elevated performance optimization. EOS, a 3D printer manufacturer, played a little point guard with technical oversight and a roadmap for mass production. SNL Creative pounded the boards as the primary manufacturing hub and DyeMansion posted up in the paint with color and finishing solutions.

Whether the ball is a solution in search of a problem remains to be seen. Notably absent from the roster are NBA players who were not consulted in the development of the Airless Gen 1. Previous attempts at ball changes have not gone over well with missed shots and bleeding fingertips common complaints. The key will be how well the ball rolls off a player’s fingertips when shooting a three-pointer, for example. Touch is everything.

The biggest concern is aerodynamics—how does a ball full of holes act in flight when it is subject to constant airflow through it. The lack of air resistance could significantly alter the shooting game wherein it might act like a giant wiffle ball with an unpredictable flight path. Also of concern is the possibility that the Airless Gen 1 will bounce differently than the current ball due its use of elastomeric material and a change in the grip may lead to more turnovers. How well the basketball might perform for the legions of outdoor players subject to wind remains to be seen as well.

If players adopt it, then Wilson may have found a Midas touch of its own. Wilson says it is already working on a Gen 2 model which hopefully will be more affordable.

Basketball isn’t the only sport experiencing digital transformation. The Japanese Golf brand offers titanium 3D printed golf club heads said to be ultra-strong and lightweight. Also, outdoor gear maker Jack Wolfskin has a 3D Prelight Rise hiking backpack with 3D printed Aerorise padding designed to improve comfort and improve air circulation.