As humans, we feel safe inside our routine, and we don’t like to change habits right out of the blue, mostly because we’re scared of what we don’t know, even if it can make our lives kind of better or simpler.
Making the adjustment to the NBA is something just a handful of players manage to do successfully, as the slightest of changes can represent a whole new way of doing things for young players and guys that come from overseas.
And, even though it may sound silly or incredible, one of the things players struggle the most to cope with is the fact that they have to change the ball they’re used to play with, even when professional NBA players are on international FIBA duty.
Right in the beginning of the 2006-07 NBA season, the league had just issued a major change no player wanted to deal with: a new official game ball that pretty much every single baller in the world hated right away.
With David Stern constantly looking to innovate and make the league even better, the NBA decided to stop using the traditional leather ball and instead turned in favor of a new, synthetic one, which he insisted was “the best basketball in the world”.
This ball was designed to offer better grip and better feel and more consistently than the good old leather ball, while also using way less materials than the original ball used to require on its manufacturing.
Following Spalding’s CEO’s statements that said the best basketball players in the world would be playing with the best basketball in the world, dozens of players piled up to complain about this new model
Players didn’t take long before taking a stand and complaining about this new Spalding microfiber synthetic ball, being the first great change the official game ball had suffered in over 35 years.
One of the biggest detractors of this modified ball was Shaquille O’Neal, that stated that the ball was “terrible(...) it feels like one of those cheap balls you buy at the toy store, I look for shooting percentages to be way down and turnovers to be way up, because when the ball is wet you can’t really control it. Whoever did that needs to be fired. It was a terrible, terrible decision. Awful”.
Other players weren’t as explicative as Shaq, with Deshawn Stevenson simply stating that “he hated it”, while Ray Allen stated that he constantly needed to use hand lotion because his fingers were cracking and it was causing splits on his fingertips; and Nash went on record to say that the ball tore his fingers apart, harsh statements coming from a reigning MVP at the time.
Raja Bell and Jason Terry showed reporters split fingernails and some scars that looked like paper cuts, while Eddy Curry stated that the ball “never left his hands the same way”, and Dirk Nowitzki said that it actually made his hands bleed.
But out of all of the players that complained about this forced change, it was LeBron James who was the most assertive, stating that “The only thing that we love the most is the basketball. That’s your comfort. I mean, without your basketball, it doesn’t work. That was my biggest problem, was, why would you change something that means so much to us?”.
A lot of players felt disrespected and betrayed by the league, who didn’t consult players on the matter or even allowed them to test them before making the new official game ball of the best league in the world.
Things got so bad that Mark Cuban; Dallas Mavericks owner and basketball enthusiast, actually got the new ball tested with at the University of Texas Arlington to determine how different it was to the old one.
Needless to say, the players were right all along, as the new ball bounced 5% less than the old one and became really slippery when exposed to the slightest moisture. Naturally, the league was forced to bring the old ball back, while Spalding offered refunds to everybody that had purchased the synthetic version.
Technology can do a lot of things to improve the game we love so much and hopefully, we’re going to have better basketballs one day. But hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Or at least consult players before making such a drastic modification.