Basketballs seems like the one thing that would never change when it comes to the NBA. Rules change, the game evolves, and the strategies evolve with every new era. The basketball always remained the same throughout the modern era.
However, in 2006 David Stern decided to try something different. With a new pleather ball, the league hoped to appease those who did not like the original ball. The results, however, were disastrous.
A brief history of the basketball
When Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball, he did not have the orange ball that we know today, according to SportsRec. Still unsure of the game that would eventually become his magnum opus, Naismith opted for a soccer ball. That ball evolved into several different forms before settling on the one we know today.
The first basketball was designed in 1894 by A.G. Spalding, who was summoned by his friend, Dr. Naismith, to create a ball that was ideal for his new game. It was four inches bigger than a soccer ball and held together by laces.
For over 50 years, these laces were a staple on the basketball. Then, in 1949, the authorities decided that change was needed with the newly christened NBA heating up.
The four panels on the original basketball became eight, and the laces were done away with. This version became the official basketball of the NBA in 1970.
13 years later, the NBA adopted the leather ball that is used today. While the ball has been given several minor changes in the nearly-40 years since the integrity of the ball has mostly remained the same.
The 2006 ball, however, was a significant change from the standard basketball.
A new era for the NBA ball?
The NBA sanctioned the pleather ball with microfiber material and alternative panel design. This ball, the Cross Traxxion came into the NBA.
The NBA and Spalding insisted that the new ball was scientifically designed to be the best basketball in the world. They boasted of its aerodynamic design and “bloodless” faux leather, but the results did not sit well with players.
Shaquille O’Neal was one of its loudest critics from the get-go.
“Terrible,” O’Neal said at a Miami presser (per Vice).
“It feels like one of those cheap balls you buy at the toy store… I look for shooting percentages to be way down and turnovers to be way up because when the ball gets wet, you can’t really control it. Whoever did that needs to be fired. It was terrible, a terrible decision. Awful.”
While it had some supporters, like retired sharpshooter Steve Novak, several players from Steve Nash to Caron Butler complained about the new material’s tendency to slip ever-so-slightly to its knack for being tough on the fingers.
To add insult to injury, the league worked with retired NBA players while testing out the ball, not current ones. Eventually, the NBA Players’ Association filed a complaint based on the lack of input. The league agreed to bring back the classic basketball.
Some things never need to change
The ball didn’t significantly affect stats or outcomes, but players did not like the little ways it changed the way they felt the ball. Athletes are creatures of habit.
Every slip and slide with a basketball meant another adjustment in a game filled with minutia. According to the New York Times, the ball changed back in 2007, and the league has kept the general idea of a standard basketball since.
The NBA learned a valuable lesson about change. While the change in the game is good, it’s best to consult with those that the change affects. The league learned its lesson, and they haven’t tried a new ball since.