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NBA confident ball is better despite Shaq's blasts

10/3/2006 - NBA Shaquille O'Neal

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."

Both O'Neal and Dwyane Wade griped about the ball's slick grip
when wet, and two-time reigning MVP Steve Nash said the ball has a
tacky feel that's making shooting and certain types of passes
tricky.

"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."