4 Serious Sports (That Sound Like They Were Invented As A Joke)
When you really break it down, practically every sport we love is just a combination of other sports. Football is a combination of rugby and, well, the other football. Hockey is really just golf and figure skating with a pinch of bare knuckle boxing. Golf, meanwhile, is walking combined with owning more land than you know what to do with.
But every once in a while, a new sport will come along that tries to take two previously established sports and give it the old PB&J treatment. Some of these ideas can be a little bit out there, and some of them leave us kicking ourselves for not thinking of them sooner. Because maybe we did when we were kids, we just didn’t have the follow-through or the foresight to copyright it. For example ...
If you or the other kids in your neighborhood growing up had access to both a trampoline and a basketball goal, there’s a solid chance you created your own first draft of what eventually became Slamball. But in 1999, a man named Mason Gordon, who was a writer for the Nickelodeon shows Kenan & Kel and Cousin Skeeter, pitched the idea of “basketball on trampolines” to his producer, and soon found himself with something all of those neighborhood kids lacked: financing.
After figuring out game rules and the custom equipment in an East L.A. warehouse for six months, Slamball was ready. In a nutshell, the sport is full-court 3-on-3 basketball with four trampolines around each net. It’s much more fast-paced than your standard pro basketball game, with four five-minute quarters, a ten-minute halftime, and only one time-out per team.
There’s also much more leeway in the rules regarding personal fouls because that’s just how physics works when trampolines are involved. Sure, the game had to sacrifice some of the fundamentals of traditional basketball, but it more than makes up for it with the increased chance of a player shattering their ankles like a sleeve of crackers or accidentally double-bouncing another player into the lower stratosphere. Slamball is essentially some lighter fluid and a match away from being the closest thing we’ll ever have to a live-action NBA Jam arcade game.
Slamball made its television debut in 2002 on The National Network (later Spike TV, now Paramount Network), and lasted for two seasons before Mason Gordon had a falling out with network execs. The league was dissolved, but the sport returned to TV with the POWERADE SlamBall Challenge event at the 2007 NCAA Final Four on CSTV (Now CBS Sports Network). In 2008, Slamball held its first real season of games in five years and was aired as a “Game of the Week” on the Versus network (later NBCSN). It doesn’t speak well for Slamball’s ratings since every network that’s covered it has had to rebrand soon afterward.
While the sport’s popularity in the U.S. is stuck in limbo, Slamball has become increasingly popular in China. Slamball has local college teams, and the Shanghai University of Sport has a full program already in place. Who knows? As Slamball’s popularity increases in Asia, hopefully it’ll pick up in the U.S. as well, because America’s diplomatic relations with some of those nations are fraught enough without knowing that they’re developing rock solid core muscles and calves of steel from playing Slamball all the time.
Perhaps no prop in the history of film has captured children’s imaginations quite like the lightsaber. It was so simple. Anything long and narrow could be a lightsaber if you believed hard enough: a branch, a broomstick, a poster tube, a fluorescent bulb (for about three seconds before Mom had to take you to urgent care), etc. If you grew up in the era of the original Star Wars trilogy as I did, you no doubt remember the unbridled joy of finally getting your hands on one of the officially licensed lightsaber toys ... followed almost immediately by the heartbreak of putting a permanent kink in that cheap plastic piece of crap the first time you hit something with it.
But everything about the lightsaber changed once the prequel trilogy came around. The lightsaber duels in the originals were cool, but they were pretty restrained because at the time they were basing the fighting style solely on the short, abrupt moves of Japanese Kendo sword fighting. It also wasn’t too flashy because the story dictated that there were only a handful of people left in the galaxy who knew how to handle a lightsaber, and one of them was a 19-year-old farm boy who only had about a week’s worth of training. But since the prequels were gonna show the Jedi in their prime, Stunt Coordinator Nick Gillard essentially created a brand new form of martial arts, combining elements of every known form of sword fighting, as well as acrobatics and even tennis and tree-chopping.
And now that the technology to create a realistic-looking, durable replica of a lightsaber has caught up to the innovations in the fighting style over the course of three film trilogies, lightsaber fencing leagues are popping up all around the globe. Granted, the movement is small, and if you’re judging it by its size you obviously didn’t learn a damn thing from Master Yoda.
Of course, these guys aren’t exactly spring flipping around the room and slicing each other’s limbs off. If they were allowed to do that, it’d be the biggest pay-per-view event in history. No, the structure of the matches are much like traditional fencing, sad to say. Players must wear protective gear, points are awarded for body strikes above the waist, and players are confined to a set space for the duel and points awarded to your opponent if you go out of bounds. The only real difference is the point systems are a little different, and of course they’re using $200 polycarbonate LED freaking lightsabers, man! Shut up and take my money!
The sport has even been registered as an official sport by the French Fencing Federation, much to the chagrin of many of the snooty Fencing blue-bloods, as evidenced by this VICE News piece. While they are thankful that the lightsaber duels are bringing in new members, they are reluctant to accept this new sport as anything other than a flashy gimmick. The irony is, this kind of flippant dismissal of a movement’s power is exactly what allowed the Sith to take over the galaxy in the first place. So, maybe tread a little more lightly, French fencing snobs.
World Chase Tag
This is not a drill, people. Tag is now a televised professional extreme sport! I know a lot of people look at the world today and joke that Idiocracy is becoming our reality, but I say that Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story has officially beaten it to the punch. We’re through the looking glass now, and seeing Tag on TV might just pave the way for Extreme Red Rover and Seriously Dude, The Floor Is Actually Lava!
The ruleset for World Chase Tag strays a bit from the game we played as kids. It’s not the free-for-all it used to be where everyone runs away from whoever is “it.” It’s now a team sport, where one player from each team goes head-to-head, one being the chaser and the other is the evader. A point is awarded to the team whose chaser successfully tags the evader, or whose evader avoids getting tagged before time runs out. The winning player stays on to be the evader in the next round, while the other team brings in a new player to be the chaser. This cheesy video explains it all:
World Chase Tag is very much a fast-paced game … like, ridiculously fast. For one thing, each round only lasts twenty seconds, and that’s if no one gets tagged. There are usually only 16 rounds per game, which means the whole game could last less than six minutes if they don’t dick around.
Even those of us with Attention Deficit Disorder are thinking there has to be more to it than this. Well, how about Parkour? The playing field, which is called “the Quad,” is laid out with numerous obstacles with names like The Tilted Cube, The Loading Bay, and The Sisters; structures made of pipes and platforms the players can jump, spin and/or flail themselves around to gain a slight edge on their opponent. It looks like a really fun way to blow an afternoon and/or your rotator cuff.
This one technically never came to fruition, but it’s a weird story nonetheless. In the late '90s, the World Chess Federation, better known around the world as the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE), started ramping up their efforts to get chess entered as an official event at the Summer Olympics. It was included in the 2000 games in Sydney as an exhibition event, but has not been part of the roster since. The primary roadblock has always been the pesky matter of chess not involving any actual athleticism, which you can kinda see the IOC’s point. Chess is a skill-based game where both players are sitting down the whole time and spending 99% of their time thinking.
FIDE kept trying, though! Even after watching their beloved not-quite-sport-enough sport get passed over for Olympic glory for the likes of BMX racing and canoeing, they kept applying for the Summer Olympics. But in 2015, FIDE attempted a Hail Mary pass: They tried their luck with the Winter Olympic Committee. Their biggest obstacle? Chess isn’t supposed to be played on snow or ice, which is one of the big sticking points of the Winter Olympics … but there are no rules in chess that says it can’t. So legally speaking, we’re once again in Air Bud territory here.
Now that they had their loophole, they had to think of the logistics. They couldn’t just set up a table and chairs in the middle of a hockey rink and call it a day. Having the matches take place outside in the snow wasn’t much of an option either, but by God, they had to include the winter element somehow! Then came their light bulb moment: Let’s just make the chess pieces out of ice!
They didn’t get very far with this plan, but the what-ifs are fun to think about. Obviously, they would’ve ruled out making the board out of ice as well, because you don’t want the pieces to stick to the board. How big would the ice pieces have been? They could’ve been the usual user-friendly size and familiar shapes, but that would make the pieces too prone to snapping. And if a piece breaks, would that constitute a forfeit? They could have made the pieces really large for the sake of structural integrity, but where do you draw the line before it really starts to look ridiculously impractical?
Not to mention they’d have to keep the temperature low enough so as not to melt the ice, and chess is hard enough to play when you’re not risking brain damage from hypothermia. How did the Jamaican Bobsled Team get a movie and not this batshittery?
The good news is that chess now has its most legitimate chance ever of getting into the 2024 games in Paris. What gives them a shot this time? Well, for one thing, FIDE holds a lot of sway in France, and the host country has a say in which events are included. Another reason is the IOC taking steps to include esports as an officially licensed event leading up to the 2021 Tokyo Summer Games. If the chess community is forced to once again to figuratively twiddle their thumbs while esports are allowed to literally twiddle theirs as an official event, they have every right to be pissed off.
Although, if esports makes it into the 2024 Games as a medal event and chess doesn’t, it would be funny as hell if the IOC dusted off a copy of Chessmaster 2000 for them to play, just as an extra twist of the knife. That would be an Olympic class dick move.
Top image: Walt Disney Pictures