NBA ball: The league rings in the new by bringing back the old

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Associated Press

CHARLOTTE — Before every NBA game, the officials meet with a player from each team. One of the things they do is pick the ball to use.

The meeting probably never got more attention than it did Monday night before Minnesota faced Charlotte, marking the return of the leather ball — an unprecedented midseason equipment change to appease players and coaches.

The ball chosen? A newer-looking ball, more colorful than some of the more worn balls used in pregame warmups.

And with that the microfiber era — the NBA’s version of New Coke — ended.

“This is what everybody wanted,” Timberwolves guard Mike James said. “People felt more comfortable with the leather ball.”

The Bobcats won the opening tip and rookie Adam Morrison hit the first shot of the game, a runner in the lane that officially ended an embarrassing period for the league.

The NBA decided to abandon the ball it used for the past 35 years in favor of a microfiber composite ball at the start of the season.

The grumbling started immediately. Players said it had too much grip when dry and then would get too slippery when it got soaked in sweat. Others complained of getting cuts on their fingertips. Coaches said the ball would die around the rim and others complained that the ball didn’t always bounce true.

“There are a lot of balls that don’t come up,” Bobcats coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. “When you are just dribbling along, sometimes the ball doesn’t come up.”

The players union went as far as to file an unfair labor practice charge against the league, prompting commissioner David Stern to decide to switch back to the old ball for games starting on Jan. 1.

But that move also brought complaints, as players will have to adjust to new ball in midseason.

“I’d rather just finish it out this year and go back to the old ball next year, especially since they are sending us brand new, old (leather) balls,” Bobcats forward Sean May said despite showing deep cuts on his fingertips. “They still have to be broken in.”