The Milwaukee Bucks, like most NBA teams, were using standard folding chairs for bench seats. Players sat on cold surfaces with their knees crunched up, causing stiffness. Zable changed that.
Last November, Troy Flanagan, the Milwaukee Bucks’ director of performance, explained the team’s 7-0 start to CU’s Jack Zable:
“It’s the seats.”
Zable, a professor emeritus of mechanical engineering, laughed: He’d helped design the Bucks’ state-of-the-art sideline benches.
About 18 months earlier, Zable had contacted Flanagan, an acquaintance, seeking a partner for his CU students’ senior design projects. Flanagan said he was looking for a way to ensure players were limber and ready to play as soon as they entered the game. Maybe CU could come up with a better sideline seat design, he suggested.
The Bucks, like most NBA teams, were using standard folding chairs for bench seats. Players sat on cold surfaces with their knees crunched up, causing stiffness.
Zable was game. “We’d have one semester to build a prototype,” he said. He assembled a 10-student team to start work in August 2017. The specific challenge: Design adjustable heated chairs to accommodate players ranging in height from 5’8” to 7’6”.
After researching chair design and kinesiology, the students found the seat and back should optimally form a 110° angle with an ideal seat temperature of 106°F.
Construction began on campus. Students welded and wired several models, and ultimately produced a durable electric prototype similar to a heated car seat.
Its strength would please Bobby Knight.
“If a player dives into one, it has to be robust,” Zable said. “Students would throw it on the ground.”
Impressed, Flanagan asked for five connected seats, two sets of which would constitute a full bench.
With help from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, the CU team finished the bench and recruited a manufacturer. By October 2018, the Bucks had new seats, installed on the home side.
“You get to warm your buns up,” guard George Hill told ESPN. “I’ve never had anything like that before.”
The Bucks went on to an NBA-best 60-22 regular-season record.
Now Zable is working on a new project with Milwaukee — preventing ankle injuries: “We’re developing a wobbly balancing-beam to improve ankle strength.”
Photo courtesy Troy Flanagan, Milwaukee Bucks.