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July 31, 2002|David Wharton

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, heard, observed, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here. One exception: No products will be endorsed.

What: SlamBall

When: Saturdays at 8 p.m.

TV: TNN

This is not what Dr. James Naismith had in mind.

The inventor of basketball did not dress his players in pads and instruct them to body-check one another into boards surrounding the court. He did not live long enough to see the 360-degree dunk.

Surely he never imagined SlamBall.

In this new version of the sport--part hoops, part X-Games--trampolines are built into the floor under each basket so offensive players can launch themselves twisting and spinning above the rim. On defense, a man called the "stopper" is allowed to goaltend and/or smack his opponent out of the way, anything to prevent a dunk.

"It's really a hybrid," Mike Tollin said. "It looks like hockey.... It's like football.... There are some gymnastics."

Tollin and his partner, Brian Robbins, both avid sports fans, are the producers of the HBO series "Arliss" and the baseball movie "Hardball," as well as more conventional entertainment such as the WB Network's "Smallville." In this case, they have developed an idea brought to them by a former office intern, Mason Gordon.

"He comes in with this diagram on a napkin," Tollin said. "Trampolines, basketball, full contact. We laughed."

Gordon persisted and the resulting made-for-television tournament will air Saturday nights on TNN. Former Philadelphia 76er president Pat Croce has signed on as an advisor and there are plans for a full-fledged league as well as SlamBall venues in parks nationwide. Tollin knows that purists might cringe.

"We want those people who are scratching their heads," he said. "It's important for us to prove we're a real sport."

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