NBA to go back to old leather ball info
NEW YORK - The NBA's much-maligned new basketball is being bounced. After months of complaints from players about the way it gripped, performed and even hurt their skin, commissioner David Stern decided Monday to put the microfiber composite ball back on the rack.
The old leather ball returns Jan. 1, and players who are still upset they weren't consulted can't wait for the change.
"They should have done a little more testing the first time so we wouldn't have had to go through this," Spurs All-Star Tim Duncan said. "Hopefully, they have corrected their mistake, and everything will be good."
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.
But Stern's statement made no guarantees the NBA has seen the last of the synthetic ball.
"We will work with our players and our partners at Spalding to determine the best possible ball for the NBA," Stern said.
"Our players' response to this particular composite ball has been overwhelmingly negative, and we are acting accordingly. 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."
Although players praised Stern for listening to their complaints and reacting to them, there were still questions about how the commissioner decided to make the change - apparently again without input.
"I'm glad they went through an in-depth analysis to pick the ball," Dallas owner Mark Cuban said. "I'm glad they went through an in-depth process to get rid of it."
Players have complained about the new ball since training camp, saying it bounced differently than the old one - 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 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.
Spalding president and CEO Scott Creelman said in a statement his company "will work closely with the NBA to ensure a smooth transition and to determine the best product going forward."
"Now we can concentrate on what we're here to do and that is to play basketball," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said.
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 had said the new ball cut up 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 certainly will 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.
"It's just like the park," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "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.
The ball was used in events at the last two All-Star games and was tested in summer league and Development League play.
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.
But Stern had to do something to ease concerns that the league had a bad product.
"When they told me they were going back to the old ball, I said I've never brought this point up, but I know this: If you bounce it straight down, that thing will not come up in a straight line," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "You have to play like you're playing at the old Boston Garden, looking for those dead bounces. You just have to be sure you have to keep the ball close to the ground."