My life started out sweet, like game by Lloyd Daniels. I was on the cover of the media guide. Profile shot. Dimples and logo exposed.
On draft day, draft picks got to take me home. I spent that night in suites at the Grand Hyatt, grand ballrooms, Grand Marnier, grand royale. My birth was a celebration, like Dave Champipple. Black box, photo shoots, rolling on carpets, hugs and holds, Sharpie signatures. Some players slept with me instead of their girls. Peace, love and me. Ball. Life grand.
But now, one month into my existence, 31 days, 221 games since I became official: Life done changed.
The players hate me now. And I mean hate me. Like John Paxson hates headbands, like Michael Vick hates fans. Naw, it's more profound, more resentful, like how John Kerry hates YouTube, how Mel Gibson hates Jews and cops, how Michael Richards hates black people in comedy clubs.
For a month, everything said or written about me has been worse than the reviews of TomKat's wedding kiss.
Shaq basically said that I suck.
Steve Nash said he's "having a hard time holding it and making some passes."
Raja Bell said I "stink" and that I'm "not even a cousin to the old [ball]."
T.J. Ford said he's "not a big fan" of me.
Mark Cuban dogged me on his blog.
Vince Carter, before I saved his ass against the Wizards on Nov. 12 by falling flat off the back of the rim and going through the net to basically win that game for him, said I'm "not really an NBA ball." Said I felt like a "bowling ball" when I got wet.
What kind of excuse my language, but what kind of %#$* is that?!? What idiot knows what it feels like to play basketball with a bowling ball?
Bob Ryan even had the nerve to come on "Sports Reporters," talking about the only reason I exist is because of issues the league had with PETA. PETA!?! "Whatever the reason," he said about me and why I'm even in the League, "[the change of basketball] is nothing less than a foolish case of fixing something that was never broke in the first place."
And now, LeBron, the dude I helped get the MVP in the All-Star Game in my first official game appearance, hates me too. I heard he said I'm just not a good basketball; that sometimes you can grip me and sometimes you can't; that I don't bounce right.
I didn't believe it. Didn't want to. Not King. I thought that of all players and peoples, he'd have my back.
But then an old ball showed me the newspaper:
LeBron James on new NBA ball: "It kind of feels like a basketball you buy for your kids at Christmas or something."
|The new NBA ball is hardly the first equipment change in the history of pro sports. From orange baseballs to white football to glowing pucks, Jonah Keri looks at other evolutions in sports equipment.|
Deflated. I needed a drink.
Got drunk and took it out on Utah. Made them shoot 32 percent with 22 turnovers and score only 78 points against the Warriors. I need to apologize to them. I was hungover. I owe them one. (That 75 points they scored the other night on Orlando, I had nothing to do with that -- that game is on them.)
But I've tried to keep it exciting. I mean, purposely slipped out of Yao's hand so that Lil' 50 could block his shot. I allowed Wally and PP to score 35 apiece in one game against the Bobcats and it still took the Celts OT to win. I made sure Baron Davis had 11 assists in one quarter. Now you know some of those passes were supposed to be dropped and some of those baskets were supposed to not be made, but I did that. I want the players to know that I'm a player-friendly ball.
Look at what I did for Atlanta coming out of the gates. I tried to give every team an honest chance by starting the Suns and the Mavs out horribly, and making sure the Pistons and the Heat didn't run out to crazy leads in their divisions. I have the scoring up around the League 2.5 points per game and field-goal shooting up from 44.3 percent to 45.3 percent.
I even got the free-throw shooting up from 73.3 percent to 75.2 percent. What else do they want from me?!?
Turnovers? I'm trying to keep them down, but there's only so much I can do. Feel me? It's just a lot of these dudes can't make a good decision if their mom's life depended on it. Still, they gonna blame me. Punks.
The one player I know bet' not say anything bad about me is Melo. See, we had this deep, deep, deep conversation before he went over to Asia for the World Games. He told me I was the only one who understood him and that I was all he had left.
I ain't gonna lie, it was a moment. One I'd never had with a player, with anyone (not even Kobe, and he keeps me with him 24/7). For some reason I felt it was my design, how I sometimes come off foreign to a lot of people because I got that FIBA look to me, that made Melo connect with me. I talked to a lot of the old balls and they said none of them had a conversation with him like that.
I told Melo, "I'ma take care of you. As long as you don't snitch and tell anyone we had this conversation."
He said he'll never tell, that snitchin' ain't in his blood. That's all I needed to hear. That's why he led the USA in scoring this summer and why he's averaging 31.5 this season. I'll do anything for him. Anything.
I mean, c'mon man, look at what I'm doing for Erick Dampier and Luke Walton! Got them, of all people, leading the league in field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage, respectively. Erick Dampier and Luke Walton! But I'm still catching hate from the players. Nonstop hate. All month long.
If I was sensitive, I'd have jumped off one of the Maloof's casino roofs by now or found a way to get shot like my ancestor did in "Fresh." But I refuse to go out like that. I sit in equipment rooms with the old balls and they tell me their stories of how it was when they came into the league and how rough it was for them.
They remind of the segregation they had to face, the hate, the resistance the players had in 1970, when the league upgraded the leather and went from four panels to eight. Some, when it's late at night, tell stories their grandfathers told hem about the 1937 revolt, when the laces got removed. Some talk about the internal fighting that went on when Lawrence O'Brien's name got replaced with David Stern's.
They tell me the only difference between me and them is the media scrutiny. I tell them there's more. I remind them I'm microfiber, not leather. I remind them of my disconnect, of how my heritage is not linked to theirs. I tell them that the players today hate me for a different reason than they hated them, that my fight is not like theirs, that they don't know my struggle.
They listen. They try to see where I'm coming from with mine. They try to empathize, feel my pain. But they never do. Every night ends with them telling me that all basketballs are family, regardless of texture, size, shape, weight or color. They tell me the hatred is all material.
I would cry at night, but there's no crying in basketball. Not at this level.
A Web site (YAYSports) gave me a nickname. They call me the Orange Roundie. That's what I learned to do on my downtime, between practices and games. On Oct. 23 they called me a winner. But before that
They said I was "angry and powerful," they called my mother "a kind and cultural space-cow." They called me the p-word pleather!
There are some things a ball can take, but being called "pleather" ain't one of 'em.
Since then, they've dropped their fixation with me. From time to time I check the Web site though, see if they're still paying attention to me.
The orange thing got to me. I got issues about my color. They made me too bright. I'm like the color of a suit Timmy Hardaway used to wear on television. Katt Williams was just trying to match a pair of shoes with me.
My God, my maker, Spalding -- yeah, it said that the Cross Traxxion technology that makes up my DNA is a union of two interlocking, cross-shaped panels rather than the eight oblong panels found on traditional basketballs makes me special and revolutionary -- said it was impossible to make me darker. They told me all the older balls started out my color, just not as bright.
I'm trying to tan, trying to get my G. Hamilton on. They said they hope in a few years I won't fade, that Stern and them want me to stay as is. But you know how most people feel like they need to get in the sun, I feel like the sun. Some players have rubbed lotion on me, some have soaked me in water trying to fade me. Not knowing that I can't be faded.
I'm tired of people calling me Tony Kornheiser.
On a radio show a few weeks ago a writer was asked how he felt about me. He said, "I don't have to play with [me] every day and that [he] doesn't use [me] to make a living, so he's not in a position to make an informed comment on me."
Then he said, "But I hate the color. Too orange."
Heard one player at the Blazers game in Jersey say, "Jay-Z can't even put the ball in one of his lyrics 'cause don't nothin' rhyme with orange."
I'm straight screwed. It's enough to make an orange roundie wanna turn brown.
But I did turn Redd one night. Regardless of my personal issues with color, I knew I had to do something big. I had to get one player on my side.
That's the night I let Michael Redd have his. No one had had one of those monster games yet, one of those 50-point classics, and I heard some of the players blaming me. So, I let Redd get 57.
Then in the postgame conference, he gives credit to God and Jesus Christ. Typical preacher's kid.
(And for the record, to prove I'm not the "ball hole" they say I am, I let Redd drop 45 Tuesday night and still got no thanks.)
See, everyone who has played with me outside of the NBA loves me. They say I'm a "shooter's ball." They say the extra (I call it different) grip I have allows an extra fraction of a second on their shot and it leaves the ball in their hands that much longer, which gives them better control on their release.
"I can shoot all day with this," one dude in a gym in a YMCA said last week in Chicago after he made eight 3s in a row. "Iverson should be averaging 50 with this ball."
The streets know. I'm giving a truer bounce off the rim, soft rolls. Trust me, I'm going in on shots that are so not supposed to be going in; these spoiled NBA players have no idea how off their shots really are.
I'm made for shooters. I'm their dream.
But then Ray Allen says nothing to defend me. Peja either. And then Reggie Miller had the nerve to come on television and talk about how he took over 200 shots with me and that he hated me, too.
But the rookies love me. Adam Morrison to Renaldo Balkman. But then again, as one of the vets in the League pointed out at the Timberwolves/Hornets game the day after Thanksgiving: "They don't know any better. They never got to play with the other [ball]."
What I have learned over the course of my first month in the NBA is that I hate close games. Can't stand them. Every loss is blamed on me, every win credited to something else.
All I've been wanting is an opportunity to recreate that shot that Kevin Martin hit over Tim Duncan in last year's playoff. The way that old ball bounced around that rim and went in was a thing of beauty. The old balls talk about it all the time. It's like their Holy Grail shot.
I just want one of those shots to fall for me. That would change everything. I've been in 10 OT games so far and a few buzzer beaters, but none that I can take full credit for, none like that.
Now Duncan holds me all wrong at the free throw line -- Paul Giamatti-style, sideways. And he puts blame on me for his 62 percent from the line. But when he was on the line the other night against Dallas with 12 seconds left, needing to make all three to close the Mavericks' lead to one -- and he made all three -- because all of them went in so clean, no credit came my way.
I need my Kevin Martin game! I need a game to end with me hanging on the edge of the rim as the lights on the backboard lights up and then I fall through the hoop. I need someone to feel lucky
and that I, me, the Orange Roundie, was the reason for that luck.
Here's the problem. I don't feel special. That's what the real problem is. Especially with the players in the league.
Equipment managers and ball boys whisper things like that while the players are shooting before games. Just last night, in the Clippers game, I heard one of them joking, saying I feel "Target-y." That's the word he used, Target-y! Like you could go right up to the Target on LeBrea and Santa Monica Blvd. and buy me off the rack.
Which you can, but that's not the point
The point is that I'm not some cheap, reduced-value, non-lux edition basketball. I'm the real deal. Official! NBA! But when people touch me, they don't feel that way. I mean, they say they like the way I feel, but then there's that "but" that always follows.
The first thing I heard was that I was cheap. I heard Stern and the people at Spalding talking about how "cost-effective" it was to manufacture me, and how much money the NBA would save over the years using me and my microfiber instead of the old leather balls.
He kept saying "overhead." I think that's his favorite word.
Then he passed the phone to Adam Silver, the NBA's deputy commish, and he started talking about my Hydrophilic Moisture Management System and how it decreases my surface undulation and all type of crazy, high-end technological stuff that was so over my head I just rolled out of the room.
But I'm trying to wonder how "cost-effective" turned into "cheap"? Bottom line -- see, Stern has me using that line now -- I hear the old balls talking about how in the NBA they are about saving money at all costs, and how they've been that way since Jordan left, and that introducing me means saving millions of dollars in the long run.
I used to think that was just them hating on me when they said that, that they were just jealous because I took their spot, but after a month in, I'm beginning to think they are right.
But still, that doesn't make me cheap.
One night, after a loss, Stephon took me home with him. He had me on his couch while he was playing NBA Live 07 against, I think, his brother Zach. He was talking and he said something that struck me as deep.
(By the way, the team Steph played with on the XBox wasn't the Knicks.)
He used the word "rich." He said, and I still don't know how the conversation came up about me, but he said that I don't feel rich.
He said one of the things he looked forward to when he got to the NBA was that he got to play with the NBA ball. He said the ball in the NCAA isn't like the ball you play with once you get to the league. He said there was always something special about the ball.
He talked about the feel of the leather and how it felt different in your hands when you held it, how rich the ball felt, the texture of the leather, the weight, how there was no other ball that gave you that feeling, that you knew you were officially in the NBA when you got to play with that ball.
He went on and on about this. Down to the pebbles in the ball, to how even back in the day he used to hate to see people balling with "the official NBA ball" at the EBC. And the more he talked, the more it made sense. The more I was able to understand about me.
He sounded like a ballologist instead of a ballaholic.
That night was deep.
The crazy thing, the next day Kobe Bryant went on Dan Patrick's radio show and said damn near the same thing. Without Dan even asking him about how he felt about me, Kobe was talking about coming into the NBA and how special it was just to play with the NBA ball and how special it made him feel. How special that ball felt as opposed to all others.
I was like, damn.
See, I wanna hate them for this. I can't lie, I want them to miss every shot they take for the rest of this season. But deep down I know they aren't talking about me, not directly. And what they say I shouldn't take personal because unlike some of the other players, their feelings are not about me and how they despise my existence -- they were strictly expressing their feelings about the other ball and their relationship and connection to it. Their love for it.
And believe it or not, it's good that I was able to hear them because now I have something of substance to grasp, some pinnacle to try to reach.
But deep down, and I know I'm only one month in, I don't think any of the players now will ever feel that way about me. My cross-designed unguarded soul tells me that Stephon may be off about a lot of things Knicks, but he's on-point about me: I'm not cheap, but I ain't rich either. And I never will be.
I'll never get unconditional love like that from anyone.
Wednesday night I gave the Jazz their game back.
Even though both them and San Antonio couldn't hit a pre-TRIMSPA Anna Nicole with an ironing board (Jazz 41 percent, Spurs 39 percent), I let them come back from 10 down in the second quarter to win the game by eight.
Now we're even. The rest of the season they're on their own.
The older balls keep telling me to learn to pace myself. That November is the toughest month because if you try too hard to impress the players every year in the beginning that by April, when the shots really need to fall and the turnovers really start to mean something, you have no air left. Not literally, but figuratively.
I keep hearing how some of the old balls lost their stamina at playoff time all because of how they played out November. As much as I'm not tryna hear these old balls, I'm listening to everything they say.
The other day, Stu Jackson, an exec VP of the league, the cat who is catching more heat than me, made a comment about me, myself and I. (I heard DJ Mic Boogie play that song at a Cleveland game last week. That was my first time ever hearing it.) Stu said, "Statistically the performance [of me] has been very good. If you break down the turnovers themselves, [the league] has called [only] 1.5 more travel and palming violations a game this year. There is really no case to warrant a switch back to the old ball."
That's all beautiful, but he doesn't play with me every night. I'm just waiting for the revolt to come. Just waiting. Every game the voices get louder. I know in the end there's only so much Stu is going to be able to do. Ever sense your own death?
Ugh! I gotta stop thinking like that. Like I said, "too orange, too strong."
It's like that one player said in that YMCA, "The new ball is like a new girlfriend. You gotta get used to it, you gotta give it time."
He shot, I went in.
"You know how when you break up with your girl or your girl leaves you for no explained reason and that new girl comes into your life? It don't make a difference how fine she is, the first thing you do is start comparing her to the old girl, your ex. Well, that's what these NBA players are doing. They're making comparisons, instead of judging the new ball on it's own. I don't think it's that they don't really like the new ball, I just think -- like that old girlfriend -- they haven't gotten over the old one yet. They're not giving the new ball a chance."
As he talked, I was dripping wet coming out of the net. He kept screaming splash because he wasn't missing, but I was just dripping tears every time I touched that nylon.
I was exhaling.
Finally, 30 days old, someone gets it. They feel my pain, someone knows my struggle. I had to cry, had to let it out. My first month of life has not been nice. Just my luck the one person that gets me don't play in or work for the NBA.
This life of mine, this life of mine.
Another guy, Marlo I think his name was, came on the court to shoot. He said, "Hey, is this one of those new NBA balls?"
"Yeah," the other guy who understands me, said back.
"It's nice. I like the way it feels, easier to grip than the old NBA ball."
He shot, I went in.
"I think I'm going to buy one of these," Marlo said. Then he asked, "Where'd you get it?"
My guy answered, "Target."
Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He appears regularly on "Quite Frankly" and other ESPN shows. He resides in Chicago. Sound off to Scoop and Page 2 here.