The New NBA Ball

There has been a lot of discussion about the new NBA ball. Some players dont like it. Some said they will deal with it. The league says get used to it. So why the clamor ?


The old game ball had grain that you could feel. When you shot the ball, you could feel the grain and it helped establish “touch” and control by your fingers and fingertips on the ball. As a ball was used more often, the grain wore down some, but never disappeared. In fact, as a leather ball wore down, the grain gave way. This “breaking in ” process seemed to make the grain even more important and easier to control. When it got to the right balance of grain and the seams wearing down, it got to a feel that made it easier for many of the players to shoot.

Personally, I loved to play with and shoot the NBA balls over any other. There was no question any ball of the Mavs rack, other than a brand new leather ball, was easier to shoot than one of the random balls at any gym. Even setting aside that gyms kept balls over inflated, and NBA balls had the right amount of air, NBA leather balls were always easier to shoot.

So why the change ? Because as much as guys like the old leather ball, the wearing down of the leather meant that every ball was different in some subtle sense. Teams had to agree on a ball before the game. The captains of both teams would bounce the ball, play with it, squeeze it, all to make sure it was a “good ball” Ive seen games where everyone screamed that the ball “sucked “. It didnt bounce enough. Or was too smooth. With both teams requesting and agreeing to change it at half time. Put another way, the difference from ball to ball was so great, that the game ball was marked with a pen and put aside on the game table so no one could switch it.

That alone is enough of a reason to change.

So are the new balls the answer ? Im not sure. They are definitely harder to shoot and have that outdoor ball feel. What kind of feel is that ? Its bouncier and has that “you cant break me or change me , im designed to be indestructable and never change feel” that outdoor balls have.. Because there isnt the tactile feel of the leather grain, it feels like they tried to compensate by making the ball material somewhat sticky. Without the stickiness, the ball seems like it would feel like a bald, heavily used outdoor ball feels.

The ball also feels bouncier. Not compared to an out of the box , just inflated leather NBA ball. It feels bouncier compared to the balls that were broken in and used in games. Will this translate into a lot of long, wierd rebounds. Im guessing, but so far it looks like yes. The things dont wear down the same way as the leather balls seemed to. So far, they always play like they are new. Thats going to be wierd to some guys.

Will it all have an impact on the games ? I think it will at the beginning of the season. I think there will be missed dunks. I think there will be missed shots and ugly rebounds bouncing wierd ways and off of guys hands.

I think guys who use a lot of spin off the backboard to finish layups will have some problems because the basic physics of this ball have some differences from the last balls. I think of the few baseball passes we see over the course of a year, we will see some sliders and curveballs thrown in because the seams dont wear down like a leather ball.

On the flipside, guys who shoot the ball better with the new ball, and there will be a few, will gain an advantage. They wont have to adjust to the ball every game like they did with an old leather NBA ball.

Did the NBA handle the introduction of the new ball the right way ?

Its too early in the season to get fined 🙂

25 thoughts on “The New NBA Ball

  1. I purchased one of the new balls at the NBA store in NYC and it just doesn’t seem the same. It is slick, almost hard..It doesn’t seem to want to take a shape of personality that the old ball had that just felt like an old pair of shoes. It seems with the new ball you always have a new pair of shoes’s just not right. Who made this decision to go to a new ball and why?

    Comment by Kelly Duffie -

  2. Nothing bothers me more than a multi-millionaire who can’t spell. Please fix your spellings of the word “weird” or use your money/influence and change the official spelling so that your way is correct. What do you think of the Molten balls?

    Comment by bob -

  3. 1) I want to say that even though I am a Knicks fan, you are definitely my favorite owner.

    2) That was probably the most fair and honest assessment of the New Ball I have read yet. I didn’t realize that choosing a ball was a such a big problem. Those quibbles sound just like me and my friends when we play a pick up game, but I always figured that the expensive NBA ball was just so superior to the cheap balls we all played with that it wasn’t a problem.

    3) I have to disagree with you on one point. this ball may actually have a bigger tendency to curve in the air but not because the seams won’t wear down. It is because the ball has fewer seams and an overall smoother surface. It is a common misconception that the seams on the baseball make it curve more, but they actually reduce the air pressure around the ball and make it curve less. The new ball probably will curve less than a worn out ball though, because a worn ball is even more smooth and rounded.

    Lastly, I think changing the ball was not a great idea, but i think the NBA did it in the best way they could. I’d like to get my hands on one of those new balls when I get the chance.

    Comment by superdave -

  4. Somebody once said they could play a game of pingpong with a coke bottle for a paddle. A little extreme comparison, but we adjust to whatever is required and if we have the talent for the game it won’t make any difference!

    Comment by John Luna -

  5. ‘Balls said the Queen, if I had Two I’d be the King…the King Laughed, He Had Two (Too)’
    In other words, Balls by any other other Name are Still (NBA) Balls, and the players will have to deal with it…From your analysis, Mark, these balls don’t break in well and feel new all of the time…Players will have to adjust, and they will do so… Saul

    Comment by saul -

  6. Just to make some corrections. The FIBA basketballs have the same size as the NBA ones, as the NCAA, ABAs etc. Actually the size of the balls around the globe is the same. Mens 29.5 inches, Womens 28.5 in circumference. The weight again is pretty much the same. Yes it can vary from brand to brand but in general it is quite close.
    Now the new NBA game ball is an issue of leather against composite materials. The official International FIBA ball is still made of leather. They did change the design a year or two ago but it remains the same ball in principle (though in my opinion they are not as good as the older leather balls of the early 90s, maybe the quality of leather has changed or something in the construction). However, some leagues in Europe have adopted the composite version of the same Molten ball. The reason behind this decision is the same that the NBA considered on their part.
    I do believe that a nicely broken in leather ball has something magical about it, however I understand that every leather ball feels different because of the different way it was broken in or its age. Also the composite balls are used a lot in the minor leagues (junior, college etc) and thus the younger players are more accustomed to them. To be honest the Wilson (Solution) used on the NCAA, is an excellent composite ball in my opinion and yes it needs to be broken but only for a couple of hours. Great grip and feel, and it doesn’t get slippery when wet like the leather ones do.
    In terms of consistency, the composites beat the leather balls hands down. And because not all the leather balls reach that magical level, I would prefer the standard level of performance of the composite ones.
    Now every brand has their own synthetic ball and the differences in materials and construction between them can be huge, but I’m sure with Spaldings experience, they will provide one of the best composite balls on the market.
    In a couple of months time, this will not be an issue anymore, and players will wonder why they didn’t do it earlier…

    Comment by George Dokios -

  7. Mark, thanks for elaborating somewhat on the reasoning as to why these changes came to fruition ( it only took 35 years? ).

    This is not like the dress code policy. Anyone worth his salt in terms of basketball will tell you playing with anything resembling an indoor/outdoor ball is horrible for ball-handling and shooter’s touch — let alone the actual elasticity of the ball and how it hits the rim, etc.

    As an aside, I don’t understand why someone hasn’t championed a standard for all recognized mens basketball. I thought it was pretty horrible that FIBA used a smaller ball, I mean this is basketball right.. will we decide to use ping pong balls at some point for some league? As a good long-range shooter, I remember hitting a lot of 3’s with a girls basketball with ease and improving accuracy with the giant balls that had the same weight as the standard mens ball. However, I think it’s a shame that there’s no followed standard.

    I’m with the majority of the player’s commentary regarding the new ball, it’s a bad decision. Many of these guys are all-stars if not eventual hall of famers, I think everyone should at least give them some credit when they speak about the quality of the ball.

    I’m also dismayed by the articles I’ve read with David Stern in regards to the new ball. He had to reference a soccer ball change to make himself ‘feel better’ about the new basketball decision. This guy is so far out to lunch it’s painful.

    Maybe it’s just me, but everytime I see David Stern I think he’s on the same medication as Laura Bush.

    Comment by CWA -

  8. Mr. Cuban, would you please talk to Donn Nelson Jr. about Ryan Forehan-Kelly. This guy could really help your team. He is a pure shooter, plays solid defense, and understands the game. He graduated from Cal in 4 years. Pure shooter. I met Donn in Jiansu, China, where Ryan was leading his team to the Championship finals. This guy has played around the world. He needs a shot. Played for you at LA Summer Pro league. Give him the league minimum. He will pay big dividends. Thanks

    Comment by Greg Petersen -

  9. I didn’t even know that there was going to be a new NBA ball. The sports media didn’t mention it. This could definitely affect the performance of some players.

    Comment by Boris -

  10. The ball changeup may help rebalance the high scoring tallies in the league. The new league that D Wade, Lebron, and Carmello play in is much softer than the days of Magic, Bird, and Jordan. I think a change in ball comfort will do more good than harm to a very nurturing NBA.

    Besides, these players are so talented and so gifted to being with. The league’s players will adapt quickly to the slight change in the game they all respect and love so dearly.

    Comment by TJP -

  11. Too early to get fined?

    In Hollywood, you can never be too pretty or too thin. That being said, I think it’s never too early to be fined. Go for it and if you need some extra cash to pay the fine…see if you can moonlight at the Dairy Queen again.

    Comment by Amy -

  12. I’m all in favor of making changes to fix problems, but this seems like a case where we’re fixing something that isn’t even a problem to begin with. I haven’t read one article on why the NBA is doing this or what “problem” they’re trying to solve.

    Comment by Charlie Germano -

  13. Well, you can fine me. From what you describe, it sounds like there used to be a certain mystique to the ball and various rituals and games that went into choosing it. To me, that is the essence of sport. In football, the offense gets to choose its preferred balls. The punter gets to choose his too. As a fan, you don’t notice unless you played in your youth or the camera zooms in before the center snaps the ball. In baseball, if a pitcher doesn’t like the feel of a ball, he can ask for new one from the umpire. Golfers get to choose their own balls.

    I agree 100% with Shaq on this. I think it’s sad that the depth of his comment — that they should take away the college degree of the person who came up with this idea — was lost on everyone. Changing the ball was a typical MBA decision, divorced from any knowledge about how important ball rituals are to the sport. Any street or gym pickup game, the first thing that happens after the teams are picked is that the best ball is chosen. Every baller that every threw on a pair of shorts takes pride in having his ball chosen for a game. This change is the triumph of centralized decision making over gentlemen reaching localized agreements on their own. Philosophically, it blows. The MBAs could have turned the “problem” into a beer commercial that teaches true sportsmanship, but have instead punted. Sad, but typical.

    Comment by Brad Hutchings -

  14. 1. I am a shooter at the highest level. No one in the world can out shoot me – we are tied. Any shooter (and I stress the word shooter) will agree with the statement that no one can out shoot them, they can be equally precise. This of course is just shooting, not playing the game.
    2. The game NBA ball is not sold. Most people reading this blog might assume that the article is discussing the 80 dollar ball from the store. It is not.

    The NBA game ball has much less treatment then the one they mass market. It is perfect. What makes it perfect is that it is raw. It immediately changes color with sweat. It gets heavier. It soaks sweat up. It gets softer. It evolves and changes with the game. It should not be over filled with air. That ball allows a shooter to be a shooter. Shooters can throw paper into the trash can, pits into a glass on any table, a ball into the hoop. The main difference is that in a game, you sweat. It seems to me that the new ball will not “accept” the sweat and therefore eliminate any touch and feel that a SHOOTER can have with the ball. The romance of shooting will be killed.

    I have not had a chance to shoot the new ball. I think it will have a dramatic and negative effect on the game if it is anything like described.

    The game is already whored to atheletes who may have ZERO skills. I know, I played with a few. They can run 4:30 miles, jump 39.5 inches on the first verticle and 39.0 on the immediate insuing leap. They can put their ears to the rim. Yet, shooting a FIVE foot shot poses a problem. We see this with something called free throws.

    Changing the ball is another step in the direction that the NBA is heading – no skills, all thrills. 20 years ago, NBA teams crushed European teams even though the league was less athletic. 10 years ago the Heat and Sixers beat Maccabi by one point (I was there). Yesterday, Barcelona toyed with the Sixers. Do the math.

    Comment by Shmuel Gordon -

  15. Weird Mark. Not wierd.

    Can I get a free ball now? 🙂

    Comment by stealbelow -

  16. I think if this change will offer all player the same situation, it will be great. I’m a fantastic shooter with my backyard ball and terrible with different balls…if I was trained with just one type, maybe I’d be good with any balls…or suck with all…

    don’t know….

    *hey, it’s not too early to get fined, start to warm up to the season! (training camp fine…)

    Comment by Junio Rodrigues (Belo Horizonte, Brasil) -

  17. Do you think after a month or two, players will adjust to it and this will be a dead issue. Much to do about nothing like the dress code policy?

    Comment by Daryl -

  18. Does teams/players get to practice and warm up with these new balls as well?
    I would assume so,
    That may help things.

    Comment by Bernie Aho -

  19. Did the NBA bother to ask NBA players about their preferences?

    Comment by fast eddie -

  20. But if the league is going to change the ball, why not change to the international game ball, so that at least US players get accustomed to shooting the international ball?

    (I’m personally not sure the NBA needs to adopt international rules, but at least adopting international equipment ought to reduce poor free throw shooting).

    Comment by Nicholas Beaudrot -

  21. I guess my question is….Why Change? Was there a movement on the part of the Players Association, team owners or officials to change the ball? Then other than financial reasons for the basketball maker, what is the reason for the change? Also, will college basketball follow the switch?

    Another point not brought up my any of the media or in the blog about this new ball has to do with the size of the seam. Having played college basketball in a conference that didnt have a uniform ball, I never really minded the different balls except for the balls that only had a “narrow channel”. If I remember correctly, the old NBA balls were “narrow channel” and it was more difficult to feel the seam when setting up for a jumpshot.

    One last point. After playing in hundreds of games around the country including numerous summer league, pro-am and camp games in addition to my high school and college schedules, I dont remember any games where I walked away believeing that the ball effected the outcome of the game. I find it hard to believe that you couldn’t find a “game ready” ball at each of the NBA’s arena’s.

    Comment by Blaine Bizik -

  22. The main question about the “new” ball should be it’s static weight……is it lighter, or heavier than he old ball? Hopefully, it’s the exact same weight when you put it on the scale. If so, then pure shooters like Dirk will be fine. The old NBA ball has a specific weight (I’m not talking about ppi of air pressure) to it that is different from practically every indoor/outdoor ball on the shelf at any sporting good store and every gym you’ll find. If it’s not the Official NBA leather ball that costs around $90 to $100, then it’s different. I’ve seen pure shooters who are programmed to shoot the NBA ball have trouble with the college ball and vice versa. The two are different. The grain/quality of leather is different which makes the overall feel different. In fact, the brand is even different. NBA uses Spalding while college balls are typically Wilson or Baden. The old NBA ball was best when it was broken in, not too new and not too old.

    If the new ball is more tacky, then the “Tim Duncans” will have to adjust their bank shots from the angle. The bounce off the glass will be different and that will take all shooters who use the glass some getting use to. Look for individual shooting percentages to change this year, especially during the first month of two of the season. It may take some shooters much longer to reprogram themselves. While the NBA might be solving one “problem”, I’m sure the players are not too keen on the change.

    Comment by Brent Rice -

  23. Last line is a classic…Is Mark starting to get shy? Too early to get fined? never!

    Comment by Mitch -

  24. Get fined, Mark.
    Not joking, really, from Europe, your comments are perceived as the only smart voice in a ocean of “me, too” opinions. If you add the way NBA handles “ball issue”, the practice time and others issues, a question raises: Does really NBA wants to have a better product? Does really NBA wants to have better teams, better players?
    If you run a company, and you want your employees to succeed, you give them the opportunity to improve as much as possible.
    I would love to see a team with 10-15 different defensive sets, in order to collapse opponent offense. This is real basketball, not only defending one-to-one.
    But if you want to do this, you have to spend a lot of time training it.

    In the other hand, for Fantasy owner, be prepared to see SG and SG having a higher number of rebounds than expected.

    Comment by Javier (Madrid, Spain) -

  25. “Its too early in the season to get fined :)”

    LOL. It’s NEVER too early to get fined Mark!

    Comment by OremusProd -

Comments are closed.