I wish I could have worked in Laron Profit’s quote from the summer – - “It’s like a Nerf ball” – - about the NBA’s new basketball. The Lakers coaches and players apparently snapped up all the old leather balls as keepsakes when they had to go to make room for the new balls.
By Ross Siler
EL SEGUNDO–The baskets are still 10 feet high, the court is still 94 feet long, the quarters still last 12 minutes each and the average salary is still in the neighborhood of $5 million a year.
But the NBA has introduced fundamental change this season – - 277 1-2 square inches worth, to be exact – - by replacing its traditional leather basketball with a new microfiber composite ball billed as the most technologically advanced in the world.
The only problem seems to be convincing the leagues players of that fact. The complaints about the new synthetic ball range from it being too hard to handle once it gets wet to sticking to players hands the way the leather ball never did.
The ball already has been panned by two former league MVPs in Shaquille ONeal and Steve Nash. Even those who take a more diplomatic view, such as Kobe Bryant, say it will take some adjusting.
“Im old-school, so I love the old-school balls that I grew up playing with, Bryant said. “But at the end of the day, a ball is a ball. Just go out there and play with it.
Lakers forward Lamar Odom said he would guarantee that an early-season game would be lost when a player fumbled a sure pass or missed an easy layup because the ball was too slick.
“The ball will probably slip right out of his hands, Odom said.
The last time the NBA changed its ball came in 1970, when the four-panel leather model was replaced by an eight-panel leather model. The new ball, which was designed by Spalding, has been in the making for eight years and will go on sale to the public Oct. 31.
“We brought it to the NBA and said, `Theres a better way to do it, said Dan Touhey, Spaldings vice president of marketing.
The new ball brings a consistency that the leather ball never could, Touhey said. It used to take two months to break in a leather ball and the home point guard – - or star player – - would have his choice of what ball to use in each game.
Bryant said last season he would have guard Smush Parker pass him the game ball before sending it back to the referees. Bryants preference was for lighter balls rather than darker ones that had been broken in to a greater degree.
That will be a thing of the past with the new balls, which are designed to be identical and need no breaking in. They use an interlocking two-panel design that has 12 percent more surface area by eliminating some of the seams on the old model.
Not that the ball doesnt have its detractors. ONeal not only disparaged the ball, he disparaged its creators, telling reporters in Miami, “To change it now, whoever that person is should have their college degree revoked.’
“It feels like one of those cheap balls you buy at the toy store, one of those indoor-outdoor balls, ONeal added. “I look for shooting percentages to be way down and turnovers to be way up.
Nash, the reigning two-time MVP, wasnt complimentary, either. The new ball can be so sticky, Nash said he wouldnt have to lick his fingers on the court any longer.
“Its extremely sticky and we got used to the ball kind of slipping, using the give and the sliding to make plays, Nash said in a conference call. “All the players are having a hard time making the transition and making the plays.
“Hopefully, well find some common ground and some normalcy once we get used to it, but right now its been really difficult.
The NBA is following the lead of nearly all the high school and college teams in the country in adopting a composite ball. The WNBA has used such a ball for years and a version of the new ball was tested last season in the NBA Development League.
It debuted at the All-Star Game, where Bryant said some players were complaining about the grip when wet. Bryant had a chance to tie the game in the last 10 seconds but lost his handle on the ball, which he blamed for being slippery afterward.
Touhey said the new ball has been tested and proven to have a superior grip to the leather model wet or dry. The league sent a ball to each player this summer; several of the Lakers did say it is easier to palm than the leather ball.
Bryant said he has found that the new ball is slow to come out of the net because it is so sticky. That could impact teams that try to push the ball after made baskets.
There is also room for variation even with the new ball. League rules allows for teams to inflate balls to between 7 1-2 and 8 1-2 pounds of pressure; Lakers coach Phil Jackson often claims Mark Cuban inflates the balls to 15 pounds in Dallas.
Odom joked about the NBA following its dress code for players with a dress code for its balls. Bryant said he hoped it would be much ado about nothing once the season started.
“Its just a ball, Bryant said. “Growing up, I played with all kinds of balls. I rolled up tape and used tape as a basketball. I played with a sock. I think I can play with this one. Well be fine. I dont even think its that big of a deal.