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Archive for Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Do over: League deflates new ball

Due to players’ complaints, leather ball will return in January

December 12, 2006

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— Turnover, NBA.

The NBA will scrap its new microfiber composite ball and bring back the old leather one beginning Jan. 1.

The league sent a memo to its teams Monday, telling them that the change would be made for the remainder of the 2006-07 season. In the memo, NBA president Joel Litvin said that Spalding had 450 new leather balls on hand for use.

"Our players' response to this particular composite ball has been overwhelmingly negative, and we are acting accordingly," NBA commissioner David Stern said in a statement. "Although testing performed by Spalding and the NBA demonstrated that the new composite basketball was more consistent than leather, and statistically there has been an improvement in shooting, scoring, and ball-related turnovers, the most important statistic is the view of our players."

Players have complained about the new ball since training camp, saying that it bounced differently than the old one - both off the floor and the rim. They also said the synthetic material cut their hands.

"For the league to be successful, obviously the players have to be happy. The basketball is the most important thing to us," said a smiling LeBron James, one of several NBA All-Stars who criticized the new ball.

"Like I said before, you can change the dress code, you can make our shorts shorter, but when you take our basketball away from us, that's not a transition we handle."

Stern told The New York Times last week the league should have sought more input from players before introducing the new ball. He also said he would address the players' criticisms with Spalding, the manufacturer.

Spalding president and CEO Scott Creelman said in a statement that his company "will work closely with the NBA to ensure a smooth transition and to determine the best product going forward."

The lack of player input about the new ball prompted one of the two unfair labor practice charges filed Dec. 1 by the union with the National Labor Relations Board.

Two-time league MVP Steve Nash, who said the new ball cut his hands, wasn't looking forward to the change to the old one.

"After playing with an authentic leather ball your whole life and going to a composite was very difficult, but after playing with it every day you become used to it," Nash said. "It's going to be another arduous time for us to adjust back."

The timing will certainly be strange for the Boston Celtics, the league's only team that plays Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. Since most NBA teams don't hold shootarounds on the morning of the second game of a back-to-back, they will have little time to adjust to the change.

NBA's controversial ball.

NBA's controversial ball.

"One day we're going to play with one ball and the next day we're going to play with another one," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "It's just like the park. That's what it's going to feel like. Whoever brings the ball on Jan. 1, that's the one we're going to play with."

The NBA made the first change to its game ball in more than 35 years in June. Stern joked at the news conference then that he liked it better because his name appeared on it twice.

But it's been no laughing matter.

Shaquille O'Neal compared it to one of those "cheap balls that you buy at the toy store, indoor-outdoor balls" when the Miami Heat opened camp.

"I'm very excited," James said Monday after the switch. "You see my smile, right? If we've got practice tomorrow, I'll be shooting with that (old) ball tomorrow."

The ball was used in events at the last two All-Star games and was tested in summer league and Development League play. It also is used at the amateur levels, so most players grow up using it.

But the league and the players differed on the way the new ball handled. Though both sides agreed it was stickier when dry, the NBA and Spalding said it gripped better when wet. Players said they had more trouble gripping it when it became moist.

"The players, it was just tough on them because I think (the NBA) kind of just sprung the ball on the players instead of giving them fair warning," said Celtics All-Star Paul Pierce, who participated in the news conference introducing the ball.

"When you're playing with something for so long and then it's time for change, it's hard to accept."

Though many players favored the old ball, the switch during the season could be a difficult adjustment. Leather balls need time to be broken in, while all the synthetic balls were the same and ready for immediate use - which Stern had cited as a strength.

And though players were happy that Stern reacted to their concerns, there was still criticism from Dallas owner Mark Cuban, who said he learned of the change through news reports.

"They scrapped it?" Cuban said in an e-mail. "I guess if I have to hear about a final decision in the media that says it all."

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