New NBA Ball Gets the Bounce, Will Spalding Rebound?

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

Players have complained about the new ball, manufactured by Spalding, 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.

NBA commissioner David 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 of Spalding, the league's official ball supplier.

"Spalding's main objective is to uphold the integrity of the game of basketball," Spalding Group President and CEO Scott Creelman said in a company news release. "We believe the micro fiber composite ball offers many superior characteristics to leather however we firmly support any decision that improves player satisfaction."

Spalding is a unit of Atlanta-based Russell Corp., which also makes Brooks, Huffy Sports and Jerzees brand athletic gear and is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s Fruit of the Loom unit.

"Now we can concentrate on what we're here to do and that is to play basketball," said Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who was also critical of the composite ball.

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 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.

"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.

"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.

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. I guess I missed the class where they were discussing the pros and cons of the new ball and the impact of making a change midseason."