It was supposed to be a love affair that would endure the test of time. In the NBA’s case, forever lasted 62 days.
Rest in Peace, microfiber ball. We hardly knew you.
Next Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the return of the classic leather Spalding ball after the ill-fated switch to the micro fiber composite as the official game ball to start the 2006-2007 season.
It was the first time in over 35 years and just the second time in the last six decades the league had introduced a new ball into collective play. With the same weight and circumference as the old model, the synthetic was a departure from the eight-panel version first introduced in 1970, instead going to two interlocking cross panels that made for a truer, more consistent bounce. It also boasted a “hydrophilic moisture management system” that translated into quicker moisture evaporation and a better grip for the ballhandler.
Unfortunately, the new material was sometimes gripping more than just the players’ palms. According to Steve Nash early in the 2006 preseason, it was sticking to “the floor… the backboard,” but it wasn’t until the point guard found his hands taking a real beating (or as he referred to them, “paper cuts”) on game nights that the real furor started.
The good times were short lived for Steve Nash and the composite ball.
With a pair of NBA MVP trophies on his mantel, the league’s best assists man is about as shy speaking his mind as he’s been when it comes to playing floor general on game nights.
In other words, he had no qualms voicing his displeasure about the new ball’s results, and it wasn’t long before many of his peers across the league, including LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade, began to share a similar opinion publicly.
By December 2006, the writing was on the wall and the “switch back that was never going to happen” happened. Bowing to negative overall player response, as well as a reported grievance filed through the Players Union, the composite’s run – a run that was believed to statistically improve shooting, scoring and ball-related turnovers – would officially end December 31.
Well, at least in the NBA.
Alando Tucker, fresh off his recent stint with the Albuquerque Thunderbirds in the NBA Development League, was still going up and down the floor for the Wisconsin Badgers during last year’s NBA ball switcheroo. Nonetheless, he’s still very familiar with playing with the synthetic. That’s because the micro fiber composite continues to be the official ball of the NBDL.
“It’s all about the feel,” the rookie forward said. “The old one is better. I could immediately tell the difference in shooting. The traditional ball seems a lot lighter than the other ball and a lot easier to shoot. It just comes off the fingers a lot better.
“Originally, I thought it wasn’t that drastic of a change, but it was nothing like when I got back to the Suns. I had to get re-adjusted to the old ball. It took me awhile to get used to it again, too. I’m in love with the traditional leather.”
Like most major professional sports, tradition is one thing that is never taken lightly. This game’s most recognizable implement has come a long way since basketball inventor Dr. James Naismith first approached sporting goods pioneer A.G. Spalding to develop a new ball in 1894. From the removal of laces on the ball in 1937 to new outer shell materials, change is inevitable, especially when talking about a game that’s continually evolved since its inception 116 years ago.
With the composite still in use somewhere, never say never when it comes to re-introducing a “revolutionary” concept. Down the road, who knows? Maybe someday composite technology will re-emerge in the NBA.
Just don’t expect it anytime soon.