NBA confident ball is better despite Shaq's blasts
NEW YORK -- The NBA is convinced it is playing with a better basketball this season -- no matter what Shaquille O'Neal thinks.
The old leather balls are being replaced by a microfiber composite model, the league's first change in 35 years, and O'Neal isn't impressed. The Miami Heat star blasted the ball Monday, criticizing not only the product but whoever was involved in the decision to use it.
One of those people, executive vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson, defended the ball Tuesday.
"Sure you hear some comments that aren't as positive as the overwhelming majority of people that we tested the ball with," Jackson said in a phone interview. "That's going to happen. Everyone that handles the ball loves the grip and the feel of the ball."
Not O'Neal, who said the ball, "Feels like one of those cheap balls that you buy at the toy store, indoor-outdoor balls."
"I certainly won't have to lick my fingers. The ball sticks to your hand. It's a big transition. It's extremely sticky," Nash said Tuesday in a conference call from the Phoenix Suns' training camp in Italy.
The ball looks noticeably different, too: Manufactured by Spalding, it features only two interlocking panels -- imagine a pair of hands with the fingers laced together -- rather than the eight panels found on traditional basketballs.
Nash said it will be a difficult transition, but sounded as though he expected players to figure it out.
"We do have a month to get it going," he said. "Right now I would say that the basketball sticks to the floor, it sticks to the backboard. It is different."
Jackson said no matter what the players say, the new ball's grip is an improvement, even when wet.
"If you moisturize a leather ball, it also feels very slick," he said. "But this new ball has a better grip when it's wet than a leather ball."
Players have already had plenty of exposure to the new ball, which was sent to all teams after the All-Star break and to all players over the summer.
Most players were probably exposed to it even before that. The ball was used in events at the last two All-Star games, which O'Neal played in, and was tested in summer league and D-League play. It is also used at the amateur levels, so most players grow up using it.
"It's a better ball," Jackson said. "But as a product matter, composite balls are used in every league throughout the world. And they've been used in every level of play over the last 10 years domestically in the NCAA and also in high school."
Jackson said O'Neal would not be fined for his outburst, in which he said that the person who decided to change the ball "needs his college degree revoked." But he did say that the change would not have been made if there were many similar complaints when the ball was tested.
"We would have pulled the ball," Jackson said.
Of seven Heat players interviewed about the new ball at the team's media day Monday and after practice Tuesday, not one preferred it to the old leather model. Certainly not Shaq, who took a spinning jump hook in the lane, about six feet from the basket. But the ball slipped in his hand and went straight up in the air -- without moving toward the hoop at all.
It was one of three times Shaq lost the handle in a span of about 15 minutes.
"I'm right with him," Heat coach Pat Riley said. "I think it's horrible. ... It really does feel like an indoor-outdoor ball. We'll see how it works. Maybe they'll learn to love it, I don't know."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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