Wed, Oct 25, 2006 - Page 19 News List

New NBA ball is staying despite stars' misgivings


David Stern expected complaints and he got plenty of them.

His response: The new ball is staying.

The National Basketball Association's commissioner said on Monday the league will persevere with its new ball and is convinced it's better than the previous one despite concerns voiced by a number of players.

That was a much stronger answer than he gave recently when he was in Europe for a series of exhibition games. Stern said then he would continue to monitor the situation and test the ball some more.

That seemed to leave open the possibility the new ball would be bounced.

"We've been testing it and retesting it," Stern said. "And I think that some of the dramatics around it were a little overstated in terms of the downside and not enough recognition of the upside."

The upside to Stern is that all the new balls, made of a microfiber composite, feel exactly alike. No two of the leather balls were the same.

Stern said it was customary for referees to go through a rack of balls to select the best one before each game.

Still, some players preferred it that way. Some have said the new ball is too tacky when it's dry; others claim it's too slippery when wet.

Shaquille O'Neal and Steve Nash are among those who are wary.

O'Neal has said that the new ball "feels like one of those cheap balls that you buy at the toy store -- indoor-outdoor balls."

"Within certain parameters of the way you want a ball to perform again and again and again, it is performing extraordinarily well," Stern said. "It doesn't mean it feels the same; it may not even bounce exactly the same. It may do all the things that everyone says it may or may not do, but it's a very good ball and the tests continue to demonstrate that it's an improvement."

Stern spoke at the NBA Store on Fifth Avenue in New York City's borough of Manhattan, where the league announced a partnership with the personal computer company Lenovo.

But once that was done, Stern went back to what has been perhaps the biggest headache the commissioner has faced during this preseason.

NBA officials have stressed that most players grew up playing with the microfiber composite, but they may have underestimated the preference that players have for leather.

That's even after Stern said Spalding wanted to make the change more than a year ago.

"We said no," Stern said. "We want to go back and do more tests and confirm to us that this move will be pain free -- which, of course, it hasn't been."

Stern said he has handled the new ball and doesn't agree with the complaints that it bounces differently from the old one.

"It may behave somewhat differently in some circumstance or another ... but I will say that whichever ball you take out of the box, it's going to behave in that way consistently," he said. "Every leather ball behaves differently."

"That's the trade-off we're making," he said. "And it's going to make a great improvement."

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