Local basketball referees help reboot SlamBall league

Fred Jeter | 9/7/2023, 6 p.m.
Ray Bullock Sr. has refereed nearly every level of basketball there is, from youth leagues to the NBA. Now he …

Ray Bullock Sr. has refereed nearly every level of basketball there is, from youth leagues to the NBA.

Now he can add SlamBall to his list.

The longtime director of Mid-South Basketball Officials of Virginia recently wore a whistle during the rebooted (after 20-year hiatus) SlamBall season at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

Joining Bullock from his Mid-South group were Melanie Brown, Ellis Coleman Sr. and Ray Bullock Jr.

The elder Bullock also arranged for Tammy Holman from Maryland to participate in the two-month-long experience.

So, what is SlamBall?

“It’s a combination of four sports, basketball, hockey, football and gymnastics,” Bullock said.

“It’s awesome.”

There are four trampolines, serving as launching pads, near the basket, making for some high-flying, gravity-defying action.

“Some of the guys were practically getting their whole bodies over the top of the backboard,” he said.

The officials had all their expenses covered. The refs’ weekly salaries were “between about $1,00 and $1,800,” Bullock said, ... “but some of the players were getting $5,000 a week.”

Games were every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN+ covering.

Before any games began, the officials took a three-and-a-half week training course to learn the rules and regulations of the unusual sport.

Some rules:

Scoring: Players are awarded three points for a dunk and four points for a shot from about 23-feet and beyond. Other shots are two points.

Shot clock: A jiffy 20 seconds.

Fouling: Defenders cannot touch an offensive player once he has gone airborne. However, it’s OK(even encouraged) to bump the offensive player while he is dribbling.

“When a player gets hit hard, they call it ‘lightning him up.’”

“This is a full-contact sport, with what most would consider illegal contact,” Bullock said.

There is no foul limit for disqualification, “but you can be ejected,” Bullock said.

SlamBall originated in Southern California in about 2000 with former VCU hoops star George Byrd among the most decorated performers.

For various reasons, mostly involving financing, the sport ran out of gas in 2023 – now it’s on the comeback trail.

There is no shortage of applicants. Most of the Slam Ballers are former basketball pros and college players. However, others come from football, hockey and track and field backgrounds.

Over some 30 years, Bullock (out of Hillside High in Durham, N.C.) has refereed himself and groomed young officials for youth, middle school, high school, independent travel, all levels of college and the pros.

He’s sent four of his pupils to the NBA (including Richmonder Curtis Blair), about 12 to the Gatorade G-League and some 60 to the college level.

This was no one-night stand in Vegas, Bullock says.

“We’ve all signed two year-contracts,” he said. “We’ll be back next year .... This is going to last; not like before,” he assures.