Stern: NBA testing new ball; leather still an option

Updated: October 8, 2006, 5:01 PM ET
By Ian Whittell | Special to ESPN.com

PARIS -- David Stern has flown across the Atlantic on an NBA Europe Live tour that will have taken him to five countries by the middle of next week, but the league's commissioner has been unable to escape the raging controversy about the new basketball introduced this season.

Speaking to reporters in Paris before Sunday's exhibition game between the San Antonio Spurs and Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Stern conceded for the first time that reverting to the old leather ball is a possibility if the rigorous testing he has just ordered validates the widespread complaints about the ball -- particularly its tendency to become slippery when wet.

"Right now our plans are to stay the course, but we will monitor it and if we find there is something to it and it is a serious issue, we will take the appropriate steps because the most important thing to us is the game."
-- David Stern

"We have sent out the most stringent testing crew to see what there is to the issue," Stern said when asked if returning to leather was under consideration.

"Right now our plans are to stay the course, but we will monitor it and if we find there is something to it and it is a serious issue, we will take the appropriate steps because the most important thing to us is the game.

"We have gone out and done tests. We have wet both balls. When the [old] leather ball is wet at the end of the game, it is very slippery.

"But with the new ball, all you have got to do is put in a new ball because they [Spalding's new microfiber composite balls] are all the same, all the time. One of the benefits Spalding stressed to us is that it is a better ball, it has a more modern approach to the grip that would endure.

"But the game is uppermost in our mind."

Stern went on to insist that the technology behind the new synthetic ball is sound.

"Spalding came to us and said they had a technology that will improve the ball," he said. "They said that we are the only sport, professional or college, the last sport using leather and that they had a way to improve it.

"They came to us several years ago and we said we would have to see the technology working … they wanted to launch it one year ago, but we said no. We used it in the D-League, used it in the summer league, had players test it individually and, a year later, they said they had improved it even more.

"We said, 'OK, let's go.' So that's what we did."

The change from traditional leather to a synthetic ball, the first such change made by the NBA in 35 years, has been greeted with almost universal criticism by players after a week of training camp.

Complaints have centered not only upon the ball becoming slippery, but also a "sticky" texture when dry and its tendency to wear out more quickly than the old-style ball, making it likely that more than one ball will have to be used in many games.

Ian Whittell covers the NBA for The London Times and BSkyB.

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