The NBA’s balls, which are made from the same material as baseballs and designed to be inflated with air rather than pressurized carbon-dioxide gas like footballs, have been called “ugly” and “unloveable.” George said that he felt a little bit nostalgic about the old basketballs because they were much easier for players to handle.
The “official nba basketball” is the same as the old game ball. The only difference is that it has a different name and color scheme.
Paul George of the Los Angeles Clippers opened the proverbial Pandora’s door this week when he blamed the new Wilson NBA game balls for the league’s shooting slump. This season, Wilson replaced Spalding as the NBA’s ball manufacturer for the first time since 1983. In May 2020, the league announced the change.
Wilson’s representative provided details regarding the NBA’s new game balls, stating that they are comparable to the prior Spalding specs. With just a little more than two weeks left in the season, it’s difficult to draw any firm judgments. Are you throwing numbers around? Yes. Is it the ball’s fault? That isn’t as obvious.
With its ‘pleather’ misadventure in 2006, the NBA stumbled into foul territory.
The latest substantial update to NBA game balls occurred in 2006. According to David Roth of VICE, the late NBA commissioner David Stern boldly pronounced Spalding’s new synthetic leather ball to be “the greatest in the world.”
The issue was that the ball wasn’t exactly the greatest in the world. The NBA players, virtually unanimously, despised it.
When the switch happened, Steve Nash was the reigning two-time NBA MVP with the Phoenix Suns. Nash had a reputation for never complaining, and he despised the synthetic ball. Jason Kidd, another well-known point guard, expressed similar dissatisfaction with the game ball.
It ripped their fingers apart. Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks observed his fingertips bleeding twice, once during a game and once afterward. During the preseason, Shaquille O’Neal of the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat lambasted the alteration.
“It feels like one of those cheap toy shop balls,” O’Neal said. “Whoever did that should be fired.” It was a dreadful, dreadful choice. Awful.”
This year’s mini-controversy isn’t even close to reaching the threshold of a player rebellion.
Paul George takes aim at the NBA’s new game balls.
Because everyone is talking about Paul George’s explanation of the league-wide shooting slump, here’s the whole question and response. It’s worth mentioning that he’s averaging 28.3 points per game while shooting 49.2% from the field. pic.twitter.com/jRANusfpRs
November 2, 2021 — Mirjam Swanson (@MirjamSwanson)
Paul George responded to a question about the league’s shooting troubles after the Clippers defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder on Nov. 1. Wilson’s response about his NBA game balls prompted a lot of debate, according to Mirjam Swanson of the Southern California News Group on Twitter:
“I mean, I didn’t say it to make an apology or anything about the ball; I just said it.” It’s not the same basketball. It doesn’t have the same feel or softness as the Spalding ball, and you’ll notice a lot of terrible misses this year. There will be several terrible misses. I believe you’ve seen a lot more airballs so far this season, so again, not to blame the basketball or make excuses for it, but it is different, it’s no secret. It’s a different basketball.”
But, apart from the brand name change, is it any different? Wilson Sporting Goods’ Sarah Houseknecht informed Sportscasting.com that it isn’t:
“The Wilson NBA official game ball is made of Horween leather, has an eight-panel layout, and meets the same performance standards as the previous game ball.” Through a series of review sessions performed over the previous year, the NBA, [National Basketball Players Association], and Wilson collaborated with clubs and players to create and approve the new game ball. More than 300 NBA players were polled throughout the process to get their opinion, resulting in the game ball for the 2021–22 NBA season.”
“A competent craftsman doesn’t blame his tools,” former ESPN Sportscenter host Keith Olbermann once said. Maybe there are some dead legs behind the lack of shooting touch after two short offseasons in a row.
Do the statistics back up the concerns about the new NBA game balls?
This season, Wilson became the official producer of NBA game balls, and some players are blaming the new rock for the league’s low shooting stats. | Getty Images/Grant Halverson
The NBA has completed 15 days of its schedule, a total of 118 games, as of Nov. 3. This year’s shooting stats are compared to the first 15 days of previous season (Dec. 22, 2020–Jan. 6, 2021, 116 games):
- 44.8 percent overall, 34.3 percent 3-point range, and 76.5 percent free throws in 2021–22.
- 2020–21: 46.0 percent overall, 36.3 percent from outside the arc, and 76.4 percent free throws
Except from the free-throw line, shooting statistics are down significantly from last season over the same amount of days.
But it’s also worth noting that offenses had a historically successful season last year. Nine of the top twenty offensive ratings in NBA history occurred in 2020–21, including the top seven. The Philadelphia 76ers lead the NBA in offensive rating this season with 114.6, which is not in the top 20 all-time.
Is this anything to do with the NBA game balls? Is it related to a new focus on not giving free throws to players who engage in non-basketball activities? Did defenses who were often thrashed last season make any adjustments to slow down opposing offenses?
Placing all of the responsibility on the basketball itself seems excessive.
There’s also a more basic problem at hand. The NBA made the modification in 2006, with minimal involvement from the players. Nearly two-thirds of NBA players were part in the process this time.
In 2006, the solution was to revert to the traditional NBA game balls. That also doesn’t work. At least not unless there’s a warehouse full of Wilson NBA game balls from the 1982–83 season.
Besides, there’s a good chance such basketballs — if they exist at all — won’t live up to Paul George’s claims of softness. Much as Tom Hanks’ character in Cast Away bemoaned the loss of his beloved Wilson volleyball, NBA players must understand that Spalding will not mysteriously return to them.
Basketball Reference, Stathead, and NBA.com provided the statistics.
RELATED: When David Stern tried to change the NBA’s balls, he made a huge mistake.
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