NEW YORK – The introduction of a new ball in professional sport has always sparked skepticism and sometimes controversy.
In baseball recently, changes have reportedly resulted in “juice balls” which has led to more homers. FIFA uses a different ball for each World Cup, and almost every World Cup brings complaints and player issues.
In 2006, the NBA introduced a synthetic ball – replacing the traditional leather – and it was a disaster.
“Whoever did this has to be fired,” Shaquille O’Neal grumbled at the time.
Beyond that, athletes are by nature accustomed and superstitious. A difference in sensation could upset the psyche – and a jump shot – shifted.
With that in mind, the big change in NBA game ball manufacturers hasn’t resulted in much of a change in the actual ball. Wilson, the company that will begin its multi-year contract with the NBA this season, has made it a priority.
“For the NBA and the players’ association, I think everyone wanted consistency,” Wilson general manager Kevin Murphy told the New York Daily News. “The idea behind the change wasn’t to solve a problem, it was a bigger partnership transition. The ball on the field is the most important thing and we have to deliver. For us, consistency is king.
Of course, the logo is different. Spalding was the maker for the past 37 years, which followed Wilson’s run for the first 37 years in the NBA. It’s a symmetrical timeline moving into the league’s 75th season.
But the creation of the new NBA ball began long before this season – around April 2020 – and involved the contribution of more than 300 players. Murphy said there are five iterations of the ball. Some were not as popular.
The prototype we had last year was terrible, I thought. It wasn’t the same at all, ”said Knicks goaltender Evan Fournier. “Basically we had to give them feedback and obviously that wasn’t good. Like, I remember the Wilson being so big and so thick, you could feel the difference in the ball. And as a shooter it obviously takes up a lot of space, so it wasn’t comfortable.
Fournier appreciates the final product.
“They definitely changed it, and it’s the same [as the old ball], Fournier said. “It really is.”
The pandemic complicated the process for Wilson, who depended on player feedback but couldn’t meet face-to-face. Instead, they sent bundles of balls to gyms and thresholds, hoping they would be opened and used. It was a chase.
“It was a pretty scientific process and trying to do it without being in person was the biggest challenge of all,” Murphy said. “It was calls to the players, to the teams, to the people in charge of the equipment telling them, ‘It’s on your porch, go get it. Hunt samples everywhere. I’m trying to get them into video calls for feedback. It was the development of the remote control.
Murphy added that the only minimal difference from last season’s design is more “pebbles” on the logo, or the dots that help with grip. Before going out to NBA teams, the balls are also broken by Ohio machines that mimic the ball’s dribbling. The goal is to soften the leather.
“These differences are something you and I will never notice. But the pros will notice, ”Murphy said. “[A player] would say with absolute conviction that there were big differences and we couldn’t find them.
To acclimatize, the NBA teams received the new balls for training this summer. Knicks goalie Alec Burks notices the slight differences, but doesn’t think it will affect his game.
“A basketball is a basketball. But I could see it affects a lot of different people, ”Burks said. ” It’s different. Something you’ve been using for so long that you’ll always be a little hesitant, but to me it’s just a basketball.