It’s Back!!: Score One For The NBA Players

By Percy Allen
Updated: December 31, 2006

SEATTLE — Welcome back, old friend. Boy, you were sorely missed.

While some cheap impostor took your place for the first three months of the NBA’s exhibition and regular season, all hell broke loose.

Surprisingly, Shaquille O’Neal was the first to rush to your defense. On the first day of training camp, the big fella got the brouhaha started when he said: “I think the new ball is terrible. Feels like one of those cheap balls that you buy at the toy store.”

Soon others chimed in, and the Better Ball controversy began.

Phoenix forward Shawn Marion said: “Everybody hates that ball. It seems like it’s more for an outdoor ball than indoor. It doesn’t even feel like an NBA ball.”

Dallas’ Jason Terry and New Jersey’s Jason Kidd reported paper-cut-like abrasions on their hands and fingers because of the new ball.

Steve Nash, the reigning two-time MVP, felt compelled to wear bandages on his fingers.

Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki complained that the new ball caused his fingers to bleed.

Once touted by commissioner David Stern and manufacturer Spalding for its consistency, improved grip and durability, the microfiber composite model was widely panned by players who felt it was too sticky when dry, too slippery when wet. They also said the ball reacted differently than the old ball when it bounced off the rim and glass.

“The ball never leaves my hand the same way,” New York’s Eddy Curry said. “It sticks to my middle finger. It bounces differently off the dribble and on the shot.”

The synthetic ball spawned an unfair-labor-practice grievance from the NBA Players Association and created a mini-maelstrom that prompted activist Ralph Nader and the members of the People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals (PETA) to send letters to the commish.

First Nader: “Mr. Stern, having never consulted the players about changing to a new ball, nor even allowing them to test it before implementation, you have shown the players a great deal of disrespect. You must put to rest this controversy. It is inexcusable to allow it to run on — possibly all the way to the off-season — with a ball so unpredictable and physically damaging.”

In a sarcastic rebuttal, PETA sports campaign manager Dan Shannon wrote: “PETA would like to offer a lifetime supply of cruelty-free hand cream to any NBA siss… excuse me, superstar who’d be willing to give the composite ball another shot.”


While players loudly dissed the new ball, they were also saying how much they loved leather and wanted you back.

Nobody, however, thought you’d return so soon.

But when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, the cheap imposter will be old news and you’ll usher in the New Year with a triumphant return to the league where you’ve reigned since 1970.

“It’s like a lost girlfriend who just came back home,” Detroit’s Richard Hamilton said. “You’re glad to have it back.”

Minnesota at Charlotte will mark your season debut.

Boston, which played Seattle Sunday at KeyArena and travels to Portland on Monday, has the dubious honor of being the only team to play with the new/old synthetic ball and the old/new leather model within a 24-hour period.

But enough about the basketball.

(You didn’t really think I’d fill this entire space talking about some silly ol’ sewn-up cowhide did you?)

This is about solidarity.

This is about a bunch of players with diverse backgrounds putting aside their petty differences, banding together, speaking with one voice and demanding to be heard.

Power to the people!

Or power to the multimillionaires!

That doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but you get the point.

For the first time in a long time, the players have made a collective stand and taken control of their industry, if only for a little while, so let’s not dismiss their victory, no matter how small it may be.

Since the 1998-99 lockout-shortened season, the players have bent over backward while Stern has reshaped the league in his image. While many of his decisions have been good ones, it’s never good when a commissioner governs with no checks and balances.

And it’s always nice when the most powerful man in the league eats a little humble pie.

“Our players’ response to this particular composite ball has been consistently negative and we are acting accordingly,” Stern said in a statement following the ball reversal.

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s Players 1, Stern 0.

Of course, that doesn’t factor in the cumulative score, which takes into account the off-the-court dress code, the on-the-court dress code, the no-tolerance rules and countless other battles that the players have lost.

Add it all up and Stern still has a comfortable 1,345,546-1 lead.

But hey, every comeback has to start somewhere.