NBA's new ball bounced

In a surprising reversal, the NBA is going back to the old leather basketball for the rest of the 2006-07 season as of Jan. 1.

"The one with the laces?" cracked Chicago Bulls broadcaster Johnny "Red" Kerr.


Not that old, but in ditching the composite ball that had been panned widely by players ranging from LeBron James to Shaquille O'Neal, the league is showing flexibility that surprised many veterans.

"Like I said before, you can change the dress code, you can make our shorts shorter, but when you take our basketball away from us, that's not a transition we handle," James said.


In a statement, NBA commissioner David Stern said: "Our players' response to this particular composite ball has been overwhelmingly negative and we are acting accordingly. Although testing performed by Spalding and the NBA demonstrated that the new composite basketball was more consistent than leather, and statistically there has been an improvement in shooting, scoring and ball-related turnovers, the most important statistic is the view of our players."

Former Towson Catholic star Carmelo Anthony, who is second in the NBA in scoring at 30.9 points a game, is also second in turnovers at 4.3 a game. The Denver Nuggets forward has had his successes - and struggles - with the new ball.

"I can sum it all up for you with one word and that is challenging. It's been real challenging," said Anthony, who will be in Washington tomorrow to face the Wizards.

When asked if he's down on the new ball given that he's shooting a career high at 49.8 percent from the field, he said, "I'm shooting pretty well so far, that's true. I don't really want to go into it too much."

In the end, he said he was happy the union stood up for the players' concerns.

"I thought maybe that if they did change it, it would be for '07-08," Bulls forward P.J. Brown said. "To make a change this quickly is very surprising."

The NBA Players Association had moved to file a lawsuit regarding the change, which annoyed many players because they claimed they had little voice in the matter.

"That's how we make our living; the game revolves around that ball," Brown said. "I think people took it too lightly and took it upon themselves to change it. I think you definitely have to get input from the main guys - [Steve] Nash, [Jason] Kidd, LeBron, Shaq. We know there's ownership, but you want players to feel part of the league and have some sort of partnership."


The league office said the NBA Development League would continue to use the new composite ball to evaluate it over a full season and that it would work with players and the ball's manufacturer to hit on the best ball for all.

Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said the league office's intentions were good and praised its flexibility.

"I think players had adjusted to it, but it's kind of like one of my favorite jackets is this old leather jacket," Carlisle said. "If it was made out of plastic, it wouldn't feel the same way.

"That's kind of how all of us feel about the ball. The leather NBA ball was the classic tool of the trade."

The timing will certainly be strange for the Boston Celtics, the league's only team that plays Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. Since most NBA teams don't hold shoot-arounds on the morning of the second game of a back-to-back, they will have little time to adjust to the change.

"One day we're going to play with one ball and the next day we're going to play with another one," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "It's just like the park. That's what it's going to feel like. Whoever brings the ball on Jan. 1, that's the one we're going to play with."


The NBA made the first change to its game ball in more than 35 years in June. Stern joked at the news conference then that he liked it better because his name appeared on it twice.

But it's been no laughing matter.

O'Neal compared it to one of those "cheap balls that you buy at the toy store, indoor- outdoor balls" when the Miami Heat opened camp.

"I'm very excited," James said yesterday after the switch was announced. "You see my smile, right? If we've got practice tomorrow, I'll be shoot ing with that [old] ball tomorrow."

K.C. Johnson writes for the Chicago Tribune. Sun reporter Childs Walker and the Associated Press contributed to this article.