NBA To Return To Old Ball

On December 11, 2006, in General, by Neil Stevens

For 35 years, longer than the lives of most current NBA players, longer than Commissioner David Stern’s signature has been on the ball, the association used the same Spalding leather balls. This season though, that practice ended. Following up from a trial run in the last All-Star game, the leather ball was replaced by a new ‘microfiber’ synthetic ball.

Veteran NBA athletes were used in the bulk of the ball’s development. However Steve Kerr and Mark Jackson are retired from the league. Except for that one-shot All-Star trial, the ball was not tested by active players. In fact, the players uniformly say they were surprised by the sudden change, and complained that they got no chance for input before the decision was made.

Shaquille O’Neal, quotable as always, compared the ball with an outdoor ball from the toy store. Steve Nash said the ball would hurt his hand, and now months into the season, he has the cuts to prove it.

Seeing no other recourse, the players’ union turned to the National Labor Relations Board for relief. This move was widely seen as futile, with most commenters seeming to reply with Mark Cuban’s assessment that legal action was in the league’s ‘wheelhouse,’ referring to the NBA league office as as “Nothing But Attorneys.”

Well, David Stern is a high-powered attorney himself, and he may see some merit in the players’ complaint, because it is reported that the league will reinstate the leather balls starting on January 1.

Personally, I think this would be a terrible mistake. Instead of switching back to leather, I think the league should take Mark Cuban’s advice: switch out the ball every quarter, and every time it gets wet. According to Stern himself, the leading advantage of the new balls are their uniformity, so why not use that advantage and keep the ball dry? That would shoot down the players’ complaint that the balls are slippery when wet.


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