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Study shows new ball doesn't perform like leather

NEW YORK -- NBA players have complained all month that the
league's new synthetic ball feels and performs differently from the
old leather one.

According to results of a study requested by Dallas Mavericks
owner Mark Cuban, they may be right.

Physicists at the University of Texas-Arlington released results
of preliminary tests they say proves the microfiber composite ball
doesn't behave like the old leather ball. A number of players have
griped about its grip and unpredictable bounce since training
camps opened.

Cuban contacted Dr. James L. Horwitz, chairman of UT-Arlington's
physics department, to test both balls -- though the owner says he
has no intention of doing anything with the results.

"Nothing," he told The Associated Press in an e-mail. "Just
try to support the commissioner and the league to the fullest of my
ability with the data."

According to the results released Sunday, the ball bounces 5 to
8 percent lower than typical leather balls when dropped from 4
feet. It also found that the new ball bounces 30 percent more
erratically.

Commissioner David Stern dismissed that complaint last week, and
said the NBA is staying with the new ball. Cuban said the league
should do the same in his internet blog.

Dan Touhey, vice president of marketing for Spalding, said the
difference in bounce could be because of the surface it was bounced
on, or more likely because of the age of the balls. An old leather
ball will bounce more than a new one, as well as a new synthetic
ball.

He said the leather ball tested had to be an older one, because
Spalding hasn't shipped new leather balls to teams since August
2005.

"That ball is probably out of the NBA's spec, and if it's not,
it has a greater likelihood of being so," Touhey said. "There was
a lot of wear and tear on that ball, no question."

The other finding of the study directly contrasts with what the
NBA and Spalding have said about the feel of the ball when it is
wet.

The league has stressed that one of the advantages of the
composite material is that it's easier to grip when it starts to
get damp. But the researchers found that it's less absorbent than
leather, causing it to be more slippery when moist.

But Touhey said one of the strengths of the new ball is that it
prevents the absorption of water, which changes the weight of the
ball as the game goes on.

"We felt pretty strongly that our tests and the way we
conducted them were giving us accurate readings," he said. "One
thing we don't know is how they wet the material. That's an unknown
for us. We tried to replicate the rate of perspiration. We did not
dunk it in a basin of water. We tried to replicate game situations
throughout all these tests."

The study recommends frequently drying or changing the balls
during the game, which Cuban also does in his blog. An NBA
spokesman said it is up to the officials' discretion if the ball
should be changed during play.

Also, the physicists recommended inflating the ball to 14.5
pounds per square inch, rather than the regulation 8.5 psi, to
address the problem of its lack of bounce.

But no matter what, the ball figures to remain a headache for
the league. Players have offered little support for it, and some of
the harshest criticism came from Shaquille O'Neal, whose Miami Heat
play the first game of the NBA season on Tuesday night.

At a lunch Monday with fellow TNT studio partners Ernie Johnson
and Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley added his concerns about the ball.

"The one thing I hate about the ball, it always feels new," he
said. "And if you ask Kenny, when we played, we always wanted an
old, used ball."

Smith, who was part of the press conference in June when the
ball was introduced, said complaints are natural any time there is
a change.

"It has a different texture," he said. "I would say if you
score 40 with it, you'll probably like it a little bit more. Out of
all the things in the game that you can change, the one thing that
does affect the game is the ball."

The UTA researchers plan further tests to continue evaluating
the ball.