NBA Balls….

I asked the University of Texas at Arlington Physics department to take a look at both the new and old NBA basketballs. I asked them to compare the 2 and let me know what they thought. No preconceived notions. No prejudice. Just science.

Below is their data and response. Before you get to it, i wanted to give my conclusions.

1. Keep the ball. Its not perfect, but it would create more hassles than it solves to change.
2. Check every floor in the NBA for “dead spots” and make sure the floors are consistent. This ball will be more impacted by soft spots on the floor.
3. Rather than waiting to see how moisture impacts play and if it creates turnovers, recognize the properties and advantages of the ball, that it is the same regardless of how old or new, and change out the balls at halftime, at the end of quarters, or when it gets wet. Just like they do in baseball and football.
4. The balls retain dirt. Lots of it. By the end of a game or two, the nets look like there have geen kids throwing dirt at them. We need to find a way to keep the balls clean and let every team know so if a fan touches one after a game they dont get grossed out. Changing the balls can help alleviate this problem.
5. AFter this season, look at the embossing and layout on the ball and see if there is a better option. This will make the new ball bounce “true” when compared to the old ball.

Here is the report and a big THANK YOU to UTA and all the hard work they did. They are a first class program and did a wonderfully thorough job

October 26, 2006: MavBalls Investigation

Executive Summary:

Thus far, over the period October 14-present, through various tests, we have determined four major performance differences between the old leather balls and the new synthetic balls provided to us by the Dallas Mavericks organization. It should be noted that the leather balls provided were not new, but rather had been used for extended periods, whereas the synthetic balls provided were brand new.

(1) The two types of balls have different heights of return bounce when inflated to the same pressures and dropped from identical heights. The new synthetic balls display measurably reduced return height than the leather balls – about 5% less on average, when dropped from about four feet. Our compression measurements also indicate differences in elasticity. The difference in bounce heights may translate to effects on players’ reactions and handling in terms of dribbling, passing, rebounding off the backboard, bouncing off the rim, etc.

(2) The surface of the synthetic balls display a factor of two higher coefficient of static friction when both leather and synthetic balls are dry. This characteristic would make the synthetic balls easier to grip (stickier) than the leather balls, when dry.

(3) However, with a few drops of added moisture on the surface of each type of ball, the new synthetic balls have a coefficient of friction which is at least 30% smaller than similarly moistened leather balls. We have also measured the moisture absorption rate, which confirms that the synthetic ball absorbs moisture at a much slower rate, leaving more of the moisture on the surface. Therefore, when wet, the synthethic balls are much harder to grip and handle (slippery). By contrast, our measurements indicate that the grip of the leather ball improves after similar moistening.

(4) The synthetic balls bounce more erratically (i.e., at a wider range of angles) off floors. Preliminary measurements suggest about 30% greater deviation in the position of the synthetic ball after a bounce. More tests are scheduled to quantify this precisely.

All the above conclusions should be considered preliminary and subject to revision since we are still actively testing.

Details of Measurements:

(1) We have measured the size and weight of the two types of balls – they are essentially identical in these base characteristics (less than 1% difference). The conditioned leather balls and synthetic balls have similar patterns on the surface. However, prior to use/conditioning, the leather balls display a spherical appearance to the “pebbling” — instead of the flatter apperance seen in conditioned leather balls and synthetic balls.

(2) Tests have shown that the synthetic ball bounces back

lower by 5-8% when dropped from a height of little over four feet, depending on the hardness of the floor. Specifically, for a hard linoleum floor with concrete underneath, the leather ball bounced back an average distance of 2.2 inches higher compared to the synthetic ball, when dropped from a height of 4 feet 3.7 inches. The coefficient of restitution is 0.81 for the leather ball at this height, increasing monotonically to 0.85 for successive bounces till they reach approximately one third of the drop height. The coefficient of restitution for the synthetic ball was 0.79-0.84 over the same range of heights. The difference in bounce was more pronounced (increasing to 4 inches) on softer, more pliant floors.

(3) In order to compensate for the difference in bounce, we re-tested the basketballs by overinflating the synthetic balls. The synthetic ball had the same bounce characteristic as a conditioned leather ball when overinflated to 14 psi (the required overinfl
ation depends on the hardness of the floor). The leather ball was inflated to the recommended pressure of 8.5 psi for comparison.

(4) The bounce test was repeated with a new (unconditioned) leather ball. We found that the unconditioned leather ball had similar coefficient of restitution to the synthetic ball at same inflation — that is, both bounced back essentially to the same height. We conclude that the conditioning of leather balls increases their bounce. However, thus far, we have not attempted to condition our new leather ball and repeat the tests.

(5) The synthetic balls absorb water at a much slower rate, averaging 8.6 grams per minute. The conditioned leather balls will absorb water more rapidly, about 70 grams within a minute. After quasi-saturation at these water masses, the leather balls absorb water at a much slower rate than the synthetic balls, averaging 3.3 grams per minute.

(6) We have performed compression tests of all the balls. The data is being analyzed. Qualitatively, we find that the leather balls compress more easily under the same load, compared to the synthetic balls. The compression is linear over reasonable range of forces; we are in the process of quantitatively determining the elasticity.

(7) Initial friction tests show a much higher coefficient of friction for the synthetic ball when dry. The coefficient of friction between the surface of the synthetic ball and a silicon surface (medical literature shows silicon to have a friction coefficient similar to the human palm) is about 3.2, for our experimental setup. The friction coefficient is 1.69 for the leather ball, using the same procedure.

(8) Friction tests with liquids such as Visine (which has viscosity higher than water, similar to human tear drop, possibly closer to sweat) applied to the silicon (one drop per 2″x2″ area) show that the coefficient of friction increases for the leather ball. After repeated application of drops, the coefficient increased gradually by at least 30% for the leather ball, thereby making it more “gripable”. After quasi-saturation. adding drops reduced the coefficient by 20%, relative to a dry ball. However, for the synthetic ball, the coefficient of friction reduces immediately by 55% with the first drop of liquid. A larger reduction is seen with repeated application of liquid. In conclusion, the wet synthetic ball is significantly more slippery compared to wet leather balls.

(9) During our bounce tests, we observed that the synthetic ball bounced more erratically compared to the leather ball. Preliminary data shows an average horizontal deviation (near the apex after the bounce) of 15 mm for the leather ball, and 22 mm for the synthetic ball, after bouncing off the floor. Examination of the surface characteristics of the synthetic ball showed that more than 20% of the surface is embossed with text and logos to a depth of a few millimeters. We speculate that the more uneven surface of the strongly embossed synthetic balls is the principal cause for the erratic bounces in our tests. The surface of the leather ball is far more consistently spherical and even. We are continuing to improve these measurements.

Future tests:

(a) Continuing studies of friction to quantify the loss of

grip when the synthetic ball is wet.

(b) Wind tunnel test of aerodynamic drag is scheduled for

later this week.

(c) Futher quantitative measurement of erratic bounce is scheduled for next week.

(d) Repeat the bounce test (coefficient of restitution) at the American Airlines Center, if possible.

(e) All other tests are being repeated or redone with

increased precision.

Preliminary recommendations:

Based on our measurements so far, we would recommend that the embossing of the synthetic ball should be discontinued, to reduce erratic bounces. The material of the synthetic ball should be made more moisture absorbent, to increase friction and associated “gripability” when the surface is wet. The thickness of the rubber backing could be reduced to increase bounce. These relatively minor changes in manufacturing, it seems to us, would meet the dual needs of a more uniform low maintenance ball desired by the league with the performance characteristics approximating those which the players are accustomed to and prefer.

General comments about our measurements:

All tests were done with the balls inflated at 8 or 8.5 lbs. For comparisons shown above, old and new balls had the same inflation. Every measurement has been or will be repeated multiple times. We will include an estimate of errors in the next report. We used the following sample of balls for our studies: three conditioned leather balls provided by the

Dallas Mavericks, three new synthetic balls provided by the Dallas Mavericks, two new (not conditioned) official NBA leather balls purchased by us, and one new official NBA synthetic ball purchased by us. At this stage, please note that all measurements should be considered preliminary.

Kaushik De and Jim Horwitz

and the UT Arlington MavBalls Team

Department of Physics

The University of Texas at Arlington

81 thoughts on “NBA Balls….

  1. Wow, i would have never thought about their being a difference or it even mattering. Thats some cool info though. Kind of a \”See how far we\’ve come\” experiment most people wouldnt have considered.

    Comment by taher -

  2. Many people have rough skin that chafes and bleeds on synthetic linings like those found on the insides of gloves or jacket pockets. The new NBA ball had the same effect on the skin of many players. More players should have been consulted before the basketball was changed.

    Comment by David M. Patt -

  3. It goes back to David Stern directing the NBA to his liking and not creating a balance within the league as it should be. There should have been much more insight from the players and to be honest with you this same science should have been conducted on a much greater level before the switch was made. Some kind of synthetic ball is probably inevitable, but as long as it accepted throughout the league. From one IU alum to another, keep up the good work Mark! We need more business leaders and owners with vision pulling the strings that need to pulled and to make the changes that need to be made.

    Comment by Ian -

  4. They didn’t ask the players. Top down know-it-all management BS. Don’t cha know! Managers are ALL that matter. You are all scum. They’d replace you with a robot or a trained monkey if they could. In fact! Now that I think of it, the owners are getting NBA revenue NOW from COMPUTER IMAGES of players; virtural players in popular computer sports games.

    I PREDICT (God that’s fun to say!) that 10 years from now, you won’t know or care if those players you see on your 3D-Holographic-TV are real or not! Then truely, only the management will matter. No more pesky players.

    Comment by Allen -

  5. Cuban,

    Well done. When I first saw this blog, I was laughing hysterically because I thought to myself, ‘Cuban is the only one that would ever do this.’ but then I realized that it had to be done and read your blog intently. I found it particularly interesting that despite countless complaints made by prominent NBA players, both veterans and young guns, the new ball would have to stay. I’m glad that people have basically told Stern that he’s going a bit far on this one. I’m glad it’s gone come Jan 1st.

    The thing that can save the NBA most seems to be happening on a small level this year. There aren’t as many “ticky-tack” foul calls which has sped the pace of the game up and hasn’t ruined everyone’s rhythm as much this year.

    Lastly, being a Detroit fan, of course I hate the “Sheed-Rule (no tolerance rule). But as a basketball fan, I hate it even more. The most popular sport in the world is Football (as in Soccer) and the atheletes on a football field are always playing on edge with emotion (standing on the sidelines like your players) and not getting called for a card unless it’s really saying something to an official that is a direct insult.

    If you make a reaction to any call and you can’t show emotion, it’s ridiculous. Does Stern want this game to flourish? If so, he can’t keep this rule in place. It has damaged the game to a degree that I’ve noticed in myself, my friends and many posters over at my site What was once a bon fire lit by the start of the NBA season has quickly simmered to a hot smoking log on the fire. Everyone’s waiting for something to happen. It’s boring.

    Restore the soul of this beautiful game. Go back to the leather ball. Go back to letting players stand when they want to and jump out of their seats when their team-mate throws one down. Bring back the intensity when it’s late in the game and a player doesn’t like a call and he says, “What!?!?” Who cares? I think we need our NBA back. It was slowly making another surge in to greatness. Thus far it’s been lukewarm. Bring back that fire.

    Thanks for doing your part to help Mark. I’m sure we’ll get it back soon.


    Comment by MOLA1 -

  6. Victory! David Stern is cracking under the awesome pressure applied by my friends and I in this high-impact video.

    Comment by Hero Style -

  7. What was Stern thinking? There was nothing wrong with the leather ball. Maintenance my ass. Like they can’t afford a new ball for every game or even every quarter. It’s been common as dirt for years to scuff up a new ball in practice, then us it for a game. Who doesn’t start an important tennis match without a new can of balls? Must have been a finacial incentive to use the new ball. Get back to the real ball and the real game!!

    Comment by Kerry -

  8. To all of the people that were bitching about how Mark was wasting time and money looking into the real changes of the NBA balls…

    You have players like Nash, Kidd, and Nowitzki complaining about the cuts on their hands and fingers.

    Now the NBA is gathering up all of the balls for testing. Mark gave them a head start on all of this.

    Comment by Jay (Houston) -

  9. I’m reminded of the old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”

    From my own experience playing basketball I hate to shoot with any basketball that is improperly inflated, warped, slick (usually an older ball missing ridges), or any defect in the ball.

    I know it seems silly for the players to complain about the new ball, but I can understand it from their perspective. For a professional basketball player the feel of a basketball is as familiar to them as your favorite leather recliner at home is to you. Imagine if you went to the living room Thursday night to kick your feet up on that magnificent recliner and enjoy the Mavs/Pistons game on TNT, but instead of your favorite recliner some ordinary looking vinyl chair was in it’s place? Sure you could still sit and watch the game, but it wouldn’t be the same.

    I agree with what Avery said “These guys are so good they could start shooting footballs at the basket and make them” But I don’t see why they need to make it any harder on the players. It’s already challenging enough to make a basket in the NBA when you’re being guarded by the likes of Shawn Marion or Ron Artest. Why add the extra element of a basketball that doesn’t handle as well? Seems pretty senseless to me, but it’s just my two cents.

    Comment by Joshua -

  10. Here is a link to a video my comedy group Hero Style made protesting the rule changes that went into effect this season. We’re NBA fans. We love Mark Cuban. We think David Stern has gone mad with power. Enjoy.

    Comment by Hero Style -

  11. I wonder if this new ball will affect players stats over the long run. It may be hard to prove, but if it does, it will cast a shadow of doubt as to whether on not those same stats could have been achieved using the classic ball. I hope the NBA realizes the mistake they’ve made and reverses this decision.

    Comment by D. Frost -

  12. The new balls are probably better. It’s because they’re more consistent and perform the same every time. The fact they’re easier to grip is really big. I think it’s a matter of time. NBA players and generally most pro sports players don’t like change. In a year or two everyone will say how the ball is great.

    Comment by John Michaels -

  13. I thought this article was interesting but one thing kept nagging at me while I read the article which was the constant switch between singular (“ball”) and plural (“balls”) along with the lack of terms like “mean” and “standard deviation”.

    As an engineer, I would not consider any of this data meaningful unless it was statistically significant. Then I got to the last paragraph where we find out that only 9 balls were used in total. Keep in mind that there are at least two factors involved (new vs. old, conditioned vs. unconditioned).

    If you are going to say that the return height of the new balls is 5% smaller than for the old balls it is good to know the standard deviation. For example if I take two new balls and bounce them and find that one has an average return (over all measurements) of 71% of the original height and the other is 80% and then I take two old balls and find the return heights to be 80% and 81% then it is misleading to say that their return heights differ by 5% because the standard deviation is so large for the new balls.

    To make any kind of meaningful statement you need a statistically signficant sample size. Mark, you should have hired an engineer to do these tests. 🙂

    Comment by Michael Tiller -

  14. Finally, proof of what everyone already knew: The new NBA balls are crappy. I’m glad real professionals (physicists) who know what they’re doing were asked to do the tests, not some other schmucks that just pull a wage.

    Comment by Eric -

  15. Seems to me the NBA should have done some tests prior to introducing the basketballs. If everyone arrives at the same conclusion (synthetic balls are more slick when wet); why is there a change? Ten big guys running sprints are going to sweat a lot and that liquid falls on the floor or is on their hands. Maybe a possible NBA change to lower scores…..but basketball is not enjoying if the score is similar to a hockey game.

    Comment by Posh Wave -

  16. mark- the problem as i see it is with the company who is making the ball. i used to work for a company called baden- and all they make is sports balls. bobby knight and pat summit are two high profile coaches that have used the baden ball for many years. baden is also the offical manufacturer of all of adidas’ basketballs.

    no question spalding made the best leather ball on the planet in the past. as a matter of fact they made pretty much the only one. most ball manufacturers stopped making the leather some time ago because of cost-manufacturing, etc. since the change to the synthetic spalding has taken a back seat to both baden and wilson in terms of quality. before the new nba ball their synthetic products were not good at all.

    i think you should take a look at this site and maybe call baden and have them send you a ball. the site will show you the advances made in the ball and basically all the science of it. baden chnged the look of the ball by making it perfectly symetrical- which sounds silly because it is a ball and has to be round. but they changed the seam (channel) pattern so they didnt go around the ball in a weird configuration. take an old ball- leather or synthetic and put your finger on a seam and follow it all the way around the ball. it will go all sorts of directions and all over the ball. on the baden ball there is a beginning and an end. this does a couple of things- one it makes the ball have more cover material and less rubber channels- and two it gives it a consistent feel throughout the ball. so when you are holding the ball on the side there is no difference then holding it on the top or bottom because there is no cluster of rubber seams.

    the other nice thing about the ball is that they recessed the valve. the valve is inside of the ball which means that there is even less rubber on the ball which eliminates bad bounces or turnovers.

    their goal was to make a ball that you were not going to notice. i would have the same effect as a good referee- you wouldnt even notice it/them.

    check it out- i think you would like it.

    Comment by kyle templeton -

  17. It blows my mind that a professional organizaion such as the NBA doesn’t have the business acumen to do essentially the same type of analysis that Cuban procured…but before introducing something new that is so critical to the actual game…the ball!

    Goes to show you the old addage is alive and well…”successful in spite of yourself”…this is what I would deem the NBA and all sport leagues that seem to lack basic common and business sense.

    Mark, thanks for being the keeper of common sense for at least one league!…and demanding accountability where and as needed. Nice to see someone from the Burg rise to such a significant role! Maybe you will take on the Pirates for a charitable project one day! Go Pens, Steelers, Pirates!

    Comment by Vince Silvaer -

  18. Mark, Great work!

    I am a LONG time Phoenix Suns fan and a fan of you as a prototype owner, and a Mavs fan as well (my 2cnd favorite team)

    There was nothing better than the old leather NBA ball, even with it’s alleged “imperfections”. I bought one of the “Real” balls years ago, and there was NOTHING comparable to it. If any readers have never played with, or at least handled, one of the leather balls, you have missed an unforgettable tactile experience.

    The motive behind making this ludicrous decision, was not the money aspect that some readers assert. There is a very powerful political element that is promoting radical animal rights throughout society. Their latest target- the NBA leather ball.

    David Stern’s arrogant reaction to the players’ criticism of the new ball; that they are stuck with it, reminds me of Bush’s statement some months back about the presence of American troops in Iraq. The troops are going to stay, (regardless of the situation there), that it “will be for future Presidents to decide” (when and if to bring them home). The point being that the head guy (commisioner, president) doesn’t care about the facts, he only cares about what he has dictated. (btw I voted for Bush twice)

    Stern is in step with the animal rights extremists on this one; the players, and therefore the fans, be damned.

    I thought the commisioner was supposed to work for the owners, the teams, and not for special outside interests.

    Impeach Stern!

    PS. Steve Nash has also been a very vocal critic of the new ball.

    Comment by Sun E. Boy -

  19. Regarding your recent media tete-a-tete with David Stern about what is already being called “The Cuban Rules”, couldn’t you just circumvent that by hiring yourself as an assistant coach??? You could be the “Assistant Coach in Charge of Libations” and hand out gatorade or something…

    Then you would have to be allowed in the huddle…

    Comment by Tom Ditewig -

  20. Honestly, who cares? Anyone who’s played basketball knows that using two different balls, as long as they’re inflated properly, doesn’t make that much of a difference. With the amount of practice time NBA players put in, or should put in, they’ll have zero difficulties adjusting to the new ball. The entire discussion and drama revolving around these new balls is much ado about nothing.

    Comment by Paul Harvey -

  21. I think the new ball is better. It is more similar to the college basketball, so rookies would not have to adjust.

    As you might know, the animal rights group PETA has taken some credit for the change. I agree with them that it will save a lot of animals if the NBA uses non leather balls like the NCAA does.

    Comment by Boris -

  22. I’ve bought the old leather NBA balls before as did my friends. The inconsistency in the quality of the leather and the overall feel of the ball just drove me nuts. I am convinced real leather balls used in the NBA also had bad quality control. Hence it is not surprising to hear NBA is opting for a ball with more consistent characteristers right out of the box.

    I have to say though, the weight and the bounce of leather NBA balls is far superior to any other synthetic ball I’ve used, be it the TF1000 or other great synthetic leather balls. The tradeoff again is the inconsistent feel of the leather. It would be interesting to see a study conducted on a sample of leather NBA balls to find differences in measurements of just the leather balls. This may show bigger flaws in the old NBA balls than the new ones.

    Comment by Keith Li -

  23. When the NBA said that PETA endorses the new ball, I knew something was wrong with this picture. PETA claims that a leather ball takes something like 3 or 4 cows to make. But the fact of the matter is that the cows are already dead and being served at your neighborhood grill. They will continue to die even without the NBAs use of leather balls. Why don’t we dignify the cows’ lives by using them for the NBA rather than chunk their hides aside after we chow down on those delicious burgers. MMMMMM good!!!

    Comment by Shane S. -

  24. I still don’t know why a lot of people are complaining about the new ball. Everyone has the same disadvantage/advantage. Shaq is comlaining about what? The man doesn’t dribble much. The new ball will what, hurt his free throw percentage?

    As far as the study goes, there is a major difference between the two basketballs that were used and they even said it in the beginning. The leather ball was not a new one. Why wasn’t a new leather ball used?

    I am not a physicist, but wouldn’t less PSI on a ball lessen the chances of an erratic bounce? I also hate to read, so I may have overlooked some things. The scientists also recommended the synthetic ball to be inflated at 14 PSI to get the same bounce height as the leather ball. Wouldn’t overinflating the synthetic ball create it to be more erratic? Maybe that’s why the synthetic balls shoulnd’t be at 14 PSI.

    If Steve Nash’s free throw percentage is less than 80%, Ray Allen makes less than 20% of 3-pointers, Ben Wallace makes 70% of his free throws or if Dallas Mavericks win the NBA Championship, then the NBA shouldn’t use the synthetic ball.

    Players just need to adjust and quit complaining. From high school, to college (for some players) to the NBA, the balls that were used were different.

    Comment by mark m. sarmiento -

  25. Great study! But did you have to call it “Investigation MavBalls,”
    that’s just nasty.

    Comment by Rapp -

  26. oops, didn’t read Spalding’s response, some interesting stuff there too!

    Comment by Pete -

  27. Good Job Mark! An interesting read. I wonder how the folks at Spalding screwed this one up – they said the ball would grip BETTER when wet, bounce LESS erratically.

    Comment by Pete -

  28. I congratulate you Mark for being so cool about the whole “new ball” thing. I guess because I despise David Stern, and he is so adamant about keeping the new matter what facts you throw at him, I wonder if he isn’t getting some kind of monetary “reward” for choosing and using a new ball. It’s the typical mindset of the executive in the ivory tower. Stern wanted a change and to hell with what the players think. The people who play the game and make the money for his salary should have had input before a change was made. All of this, of course, IMHO.

    Comment by Michealyne Johnson -

  29. Thank you Mark!
    The new basketballs are slicker when wet, bounce more erratically, get dirty quicker but the NBA still wants to use them. The question is why? Just maybe sales of the old basketball were slumping so let’s give NBA consumers something to buy. A solid business idea but not a good game decision.

    Comment by Ron -

  30. I am really glad Mark did this; I don’t trust the NBA to be objective about the ball AT ALL.

    If they inflate the new ball more so that it dribbles at the same height as the leather, then won’t that affect how the ball bounces on the rim? I’m glad to see data on how the ball bounces off wood floors, but I hope further studies look at the ball as it banks off the glass of the backboard and the metal of the rim.

    Everyone needs to quit sucking up to David Stern; the emperor has no clothes on this one.

    Comment by Tom Pittman -

  31. I’d just like to know what kind of $$$ is behind the scenes that is “making” them switch balls.

    Comment by -

  32. as both a scientist and an NBA fan this post troubles me. These test should have and could have been conducted by the NBA and Spalding. The methods seem completely sound to me aside from one or two minor quibbles. If you know anything about hydrophobic surfaces, all these conclusions were pretty much exactly what you would expect. This has to make me conclude that at very best, Spalding and the nba were misleading with the public about the properties of the new ball. At worst they were lying.

    Comment by superdave -

  33. Thank you for taking it to the scientists. Stern can argue all he wants against the emotions of various players, but you can’t argue with science.

    Comment by Roxana -

  34. I wrote the above BEFORE I read Spalding’s response.

    Comment by Davdi -

  35. Mark,

    I read through some of the comments, and I think Evan’s suspicicions about the added friction of the composite ball contributing to the erratic bounce should be investigated further.

    Also, I was also wondering if there might be a “break-in” time with the composite balls – not in terms of grip (like the leather ball), but in terms of bounce. When you blow up a balloon for the first time, it elasticity of the balloon is “tighter” the first time you blow up the balloon. If you release the air and blow again, it becomes easier to blow up, as the ballon’s material has “stretched”. Could this be the same with the new ball? Perhaps testing the “bounciness” of the new ball vs. old ball could be done after the ball has been used for a while?

    Lastly, to the commenters who said that there was no need for a new ball (the old ball was fine): Keep in mind that the specific grain and quality of leather that was used for the old leather ball was hard to come by. Eventually, whether this year or in 5 years, the switch to a synthetic ball would be required anyways. Besides, every basketball league in the WORLD, at EVERY LEVEL, uses a synthetic ball – even FIBA. The NBA is the only league that still uses real leather (until now, of course).

    I have used both the leather ball and I recently obtained one of the synthetic ball. I play basketball about 3-4 times a week at my local gym. My “unscientific” research is as follows:

    1) The ball needs to be overinflated. I agree with the scientists on this one.

    2) The ball’s grip is superior to the leather ball. And when it’s wet, yes, it is more slippery than the leather ball. However, because of the material, it’s much, much easier to dry the ball off. Leather, as noted by the UTA scientists, “absorbs” the liquid, and cannot be quickly dried when wet. With synthetic balls, you can simply “wipe” the wetness away.

    3) Just because of the pebbling on the ball, something about it tells me that the surface of the composite cover on the new ball won’t last long. It’s so soft, that it feels like the material will “rub off” after a while. Mark: You should ask the UTA scientists to test the longevity of the ball as well.

    Anyways… those are my thoughts~ Great BLOG, Mark! I don’t always agree with everything you write, but your stuff is always compelling, to say the least!

    (Also, I’m sorry, but I’ve been a Spurs fan since I was 10! But I am also a Dalls fan too. Well, unless they are playing the Spurs. ^^)

    Comment by Davdi -

  36. Hey Mark,
    I’ve read some of your blog. I find it interesting to actually see what an NBA owner thinks on different issues. About the new ball. My first thought about the new NBA ball is player injury. Sounds funny but they’ve tried in the past to make a ball that had quicker response and better grip that could be uniformly mass produced etc etc … all that, and most of them usually resulted in hand injuries. It seems that the ability to grip the ball relates in the friction of catching and throwing. I’ve never seen this specific ball, but I’ll keep watching for an increase in hand injuries especially to point guards and any scoring leaders.

    Comment by Eric Cordine -

  37. As the leader in competitive-play basketballs and the supplier of the NBA’s Official Game Ball since 1983, Spalding would like to offer the following observations in response to the findings of the University of Texas at Arlington Physics Department regarding the newly-introduced composite NBA game ball:

    1. The new composite NBA Game Ball is the result of years of extensive research and development, and is an improvement to the leather ball in both its consistency across a range of dimensions and its playability. Over the 8-year development period for the ball, we subjected the new ball to all manner of tests to ensure that it would meet the NBA’s rigorous set of specifications relating to weight, rebound, circumference, balance, roundness, grip (coefficient of friction), air retention, and durability. The composite ball performed better and more reliably than did the leather ball across all of these aspects, and is therefore a better-performing product
    for the NBA and its players.

    2. It is no surprise that UTA found that the composite ball when brand new rebounds to a lower height than a used leather ball. As leather basketballs wear over time, the construction elements become more elastic and the balls bounce higher making them more likely to fallout of NBA rebounding specifications. In fact, this is one of the major advantages of the new composite ball — that it will more consistently maintain in size, shape, weight, and other characteristics within NBA specifications throughout its playable lifespan. (In addition, UTA’s testing of overinflated balls and use of non-hardwood testing surfaces (such as linoleum) are not applicable since they do not replicate NBA game characteristics.)

    3. UTA finds that the new composite ball is grippier than the leather ball when dry, but less grippy than wet. While we agree with the first part of this finding, we do not agree with the second. Our Coefficient of Friction (grip) testing, which uses standardized tests set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), demonstrated that the new balls grip outperformed the leather balls grip in both wet and dry conditions whether the balls were new or used.

    4. We agree with UTA’s findings that the leather ball absorbs water to a greater extent than the composite ball. In fact, a leather ball will gain approximately 79 grams of water weight during game play — a significant variation over the course of a game that could likely take the ball outside of NBA weight specifications, and a figure 394% higher than the new composite ball. Because the composite ball will have less weight variation than the leather ball, it will play in a more consistent manner over the course of the game.

    5. The UTA’s findings regarding bounce consistency require further details. The new ball has less channel area and 10% more pebble grain surface area than the leather ball. In addition, the channels and embossing of the new ball were designed to have a similar depth as the channels of a leather ball, making the consistency of the bounce similar to the old ball over time. It is also important to note that since leather balls are all unique they will behave differently and sampling one or two balls does not provide an appropriate sampling size. At Spalding, we test thousands of balls per year and believe that a larger sample size will produce more reliable data. We havent had any reports from the pre-season about bounce inconsistency.

    6. The pebble shape of the composite ball is intended to replicate the pebble shape of a broken-in leather ball. UTA’s findings confirm that the ball was constructed as designed.

    7. Finally, based on pre-season statistics provided by the NBA for this season in comparison to the past three pre-seasons, the new ball has had no adverse impact on performance. In fact, compared to last pre-season, scoring has increased by 4.1 points per game and field goal and free throw shooting percentages have also increased. While the number of turnovers has increased as well, a careful review of the numbers shows that this is the result of increased traveling calls (a point of emphasis with NBA referees in the pre-season), and not as a result of ball handling. Play on the court has been consistent, if not improved, over past pre-seasons, and more players are commenting that they are getting used to the ball.

    In summary, Spalding is confident that the players will appreciate the improved consistency and playability of the new ball.

    Comment by Ron LaLiberty, Director of Product Development, Spalding -

  38. Yeah! UTA, my alma mater. Thanks for the requested research on this — it’s interesting. Though, I find it a little funny that the NBA is focusing on this opposed to other factors.

    Comment by Justin -

  39. Mark: awesome.

    Comment by jason -

  40. Great stuff and thanks for supporting a local university.

    Comment by Andy -


    personally, i played in a full court game with the new ball and really enjoyed being able to PALM A BASKETBALL, as will every guy who couldn’t palm a leather ball, but CAN palm the new synthetic ball.

    adds alot to the game of a typical hack to be able to palm the ball.

    as for basketball viewing, in HD, will be fun to watch the pro’s like Josh Howard fly to the rim with ball outstretched, palmed in his hand right before he slams on any number of opponents

    Comment by karl meisenbach -

  42. In-depth research for the purpose of knowledge leads to better and wiser decisions and more accurate stats. Thanks for your work and concern in making Bball better.

    Comment by Dollar -

  43. THe NBA should have changed the basketball. The old ones were good, but no two were the same. And it technology can arrive at a better product, isn’t that what progress is all about?

    Good job, Mark, on doing some independent research.

    Comment by girls basketball -

  44. NBA missed out a better opportunity to reach out to the fans on this concept before actual implementation. With a simple public relations campaign they would have introduced the new prototype while making “the next gen?”-ball available to the public in stores with a portion of the proceeds benefiting ____ charitable organization.

    NBA missed an honor to inspire the younger fans with a fun/educational application of science experiments, basketball equipment, and results aforementioned. Encourage an Open-Invitational NBA Science Fair. join the fun online at

    Doesn’t everybody want to know how the new ball would perform with real leather replacing the composite? How does that new ball look in red white and blue? If we’re stuck with this new ball, make us love it.

    Comment by saM FFL -

  45. Evan(9), the balls dropped had negligible spin. They were suspended by a suction (motionless) at a specific height and fell straight down when the suction was turned off. …But even without spin the coefficient of friction could effect the bounce.

    Mitch(25), the leather ball’s mass can increase by 10% over the course of the game from absorbing water. That was one of the motivations for changing to the new ball. Absorb the water and it gets heavy. Don’t absorb it and it gets slick. It might be worth exploring the grey area in between.

    Comment by Barry (UTA Physics) -

  46. Wow, Mark, the NBA is making the same mistake in 2006 that Major League Baseball made in the 1970’s when many teams went from the natural all-grass playing surface to AstroTurf. Fortuntately, MLB saw the error of this decision and got rid of the slick surfaces and back to grass, mainly due to all the new “retro” ballparks built. Today, you’ll only find artificial surfaces in Tampa Bay and (I think) Toronto.

    Not that fans will notice this change like they did when the unsightly AstroTurf came into baseball. After all, the composite balls “look” the same as the leather balls. However, if the report’s findings are accurate, the look of the game WILL change, and not for the better. More sloppy play and turnovers would be the result of this change, though an easier grip early in games (before the ball gets sweaty) should result in more dunking and perhaps more accurate shooting.

    If the artificial ball creates artificial problems, I hope that the NBA makes the needed changes, or just goes back to leather.

    BTW, I know an MLB team in Denver that needs a new owner badly to fix the “artificial problems” of their own creation. Send me a private e-mail, and I could help fascilitate a meeting with the current regime in charge. It’s a great untapped opportunity to rekindle a once golden-goose that was burnt to a crisp by incompetent ownership, and it’s not that far from Dallas!

    Comment by Ken -

  47. Nice plug for UTA. The Mavericks should find additional ways to make use of UTA’s fine work…

    Comment by queuno -

  48. Awesome that you and the Mavs organization are posting this to the public. This is something the NBA should of done from the beginning. But then again, it isn’t really the fans that are complaining but rather the players. Maybe they will lessen their stance if they see this report. What does Dirk think?

    Comment by Darren -

  49. David Stern = Management

    Typical Management to make a decision without consulting employees and once there are complaints stick to their guns rather than admit their mistake

    Comment by CJC -

  50. Very intersting scientific research. Mark, tnx for your comments about this data.

    Comment by Robert -

  51. Regardless of whether the composite ball is better or worse, changing the equipment specifications is treason to all the other pro’s who made their bones with that very ball over these past decades. No doubt, MLB could sell more tickets if more players were hitting more HRs with aluminum/ceramic/titanium-hybrid bats… but that would be disrespectful to the players, let alone the fans.

    Why make a lateral move without a steep and legit benefit? Fix that which is broken first.

    Comment by saM FFL -

  52. Dear Marc: You are THE MAN for getting these results. The biggest factor I think is the bounce back difference. As a guard, “handle” and feel is everything. Maybe professionals like Jason Terry and Anthony Johnson can adjust quickly, but whenever I play with a new ball with a noticeable difference in bounce-back, it throws my game off. Even though it sounds twisted, I really hope they didn’t change the ball for PETA. The only player I’ve read who has welcomed the switch is Mike James, but I imagine it will take a while for big men with questionable handle to adjust. Heck, most big men shouldn’t be dribbling anyway (except for Dirk of course).

    Comment by Jason M -

  53. I really don’t care about the ball to be honest with you. It’s just marketing.

    Now, put ads on player jerseys…that would be a different story.

    Comment by Dan Irwin -

  54. This was great. Only you would think about (and then actually go out and get it done) this type of testing.

    And you have some great ideas. Simply swap out the balls at halftime and that should take care of the moisture issue (or at least make it much less of a problem).

    I love reading this blog. Keep up the great writing (and go Mavs!).

    Comment by wailea -

  55. Great post! I was always curious as to what the performance of the new ball vs the old ball… guess this answers my question 😀

    Comment by hoop -

  56. Good job Cuban.

    I was wondering the other day if Stern had the new balls tested.

    Let’s get rid of that clown.

    Cuban for Commissioner!!!!

    Comment by Old School -

  57. So since the old ball better absorbed moisture didn’t that characteristic cause fluctuations in weight over the length of a game due to the ball having absorbed more water?

    If the capacity of moisture absorption causes fluctuations in the weight of the ball, wouldn’t that negatively affect the players’ ability to fire off a consistent shot?

    Comment by Mich -

  58. Thank you Mark, for getting UTA to put this short report together. Hopefully something like this can get David Stern and the NBA to fix the ball this year since they don’t want to ruin their endorsement deal by throwing it out…

    Comment by AJL -

  59. I think we’re all seeing a new Mark, along with this new ball. In the past, Mark might have just blurted out, “this new ball is garbage; the players and owners need to find a way to reverse this horrible decision (instead of dealing with the obvious and incontrovertable problems within the NBA front office and officiating).” While I can and do say that statement proudly, Mark would get fined out the wazoo… after all, someone must pay the bills around there.

    Instead, Mark gave a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to the UTA Physics department to conduct the first and most comprehensive testing I have ever seen on any pro-sports device alteration. This new, more mature Mark says by action, “let science reveal the truth.” If the NBA had grown half as much during this off-season as Mark has, they would have conducted tests like these before turning their professional athletes (and their stats) into laboratory mice.

    Why would the NBA do this? EASY ANSWER. The old, tried-and-true, official leather ball wasn’t selling at retail stores, so Stern agreed to stamp his name on a new, trite ball that will sell better in stores because it’s more affordable. Follow the money, people.

    Comment by saM FFL -

  60. Why is the NBA changing the freakin ball? The marketing upside to changing the ball is probably so low that it wasn’t worth the change. From all sources I’ve read none of the players even likes the new ball. So the cost that went in to the change wasn’t worth it and the players don’t like it. What do you think Mark?

    Comment by James Green -

  61. Fantastic Mark! I hope the commissioner is getting this report.

    As anybody who played ball knows having a good ‘rock’ makes all the difference.

    Play ball!

    Comment by Antonio Howell -

  62. QUOTE from ML #3 – “Are you really that invaluable to society that you spend your time and money worrying about the physics basketballs? People are still going to fill the stands to see the games regardless of what ball is used. The Mavs are good, people like the Mavs, people don’t care about the basketballs.”

    It might not make a difference to the people but it matters to the players. If the players are affected by a change in the tool they use to entertain the fans, in the crowd and watching the game on television, then it does affect the fans, so they should care as well.

    QUOTE from ML #3 – “This is the dumbest thing I have ever seen. You are a true Blartist, can you blog about something people actually care about? This blog was a waste of your time, my time, everyone’s time, and a lot of money that could have gone to something better.”

    Unless Mark forced a gun to your head to read his blog, it was your choice to read the blog, comment on the blog and make yourself look stupid in the process.

    QUOTE from ML #3 – “I can’t believe I’m dignifying this blog with a response. I’m going to go vomit now. Then I’m going to sue you for the 15 minutes I just spend reading this blog and responding to it. That’ll be $10, please.”

    I’m sure that would hold up in court. Go ahead and sue McDonalds while your at it for making you eat their food and get fat in the process.

    Comment by Drew -

  63. Great tests! What does Dirk think? Has it effected his shooting, rebounding, etc.? The players are the ones using the ball at the end of the day – do they care? We know how Shaq feels, but what about the rest of the league?

    Comment by Jonathan Stovall -

  64. Great idea, Mark. Shows the new balls to be, if not crap, at least worst than previously-used leather balls. Like the scientists of UT stated, all they really need to so is make a few simple corrections that will make the balls feels and perform close to what the players are used to – but at a much lower maintenance cost. Seems to me to be the perfect solution to this. Let’s just hope they do this in time to have theses balls used this season. But by the looks of it we’re bound to see a lot of loose balls, odd rebounds and weird bounces come the start of the season next week.

    Comment by Bruno Berthold -

  65. Mark,

    Thanks for confirming what many players have suspected. Hard to believe that the NBA didn’t do their own scientific tests and adjust accordingly. If they did test and still came out with this ball, shame on them. PETA and Stern might claim victory with the new ball, but based on this evidence it’s hard to support their enthusiasm.

    Comment by Steve -

  66. This is so cool that you asked for an unbiased scientific study between the two balls. I hope you will do the test again, and ask the scientists to put similar wear on the balls.
    Look out bar flies – I gots me some new ammo to take your bucks!
    Is there a “turnovers per game” line in Vegas?
    Only a Cuban-type fanatic would think of this, let alone do it.

    Hope you blog about the uniform changes Stern proposes.

    Comment by Snake -

  67. I think the largest issue with this is the test done with the grip of the ball when wet. After any water is added, grip on the synthetic ball drops by 55% – in comparison to leather, where it increases 30%.

    This will lead to many more turnovers and an appearance of a sloppy game and less talented players – further drawing people away from the NBA.

    Comment by Kip Nickell -

  68. Well the new ball goes into effect this Tuesday 8pm EST, on TNT when the Miami Heat hit the court to face the chicago Bulls so I guess we will see…

    Comment by Crazyglues -

  69. The bottom line is that there was no real need for a change. There was not a single player saying, “we gotta change basketballs, this kind we’ve been using for 40 years just doesn’t work”. It might be too much effort to go back now, but the fact that they made the change at all, despite players uniformly disliking the new ball, just shows how clueless the NBA is. The league is great despite the way it is run, not because of it.

    All this scientific data means nothing. The old ball was fine, players liked it, don’t change.

    Comment by Tim -

  70. from above data some advantage to the average player:
    Lower rebound typically translate in to more rim-balls, ie balls that would fall in the bucket after hitting the rim as opposed to rattling out.
    Less grip-able & compressable (vis-a vie leather balls): Of course shaq would complain about this, players with very large palms (like shaq) can grip the ball with a single palm while low-posting. The new ball would definetly deter this.

    Comment by maveric -

  71. @ML, these kinds of test have been around for awhile. They are used in everyday engineering/science.

    @Justin, I think Mark Cuban just wanted to get some scientific data to compare with why a lot of the NBA players are complaining about the new basketballs. Have you ever done something for your entire life, and then all of a sudden, there’s a slight change? NBA players all use muscle memory to shoot, dribble, etc. Slightest changes in bounce and grip could change the players game.

    Comment by Byron -

  72. I have played the game with all manner of basketballs. I feel that for a professional league like NBA, the ball needs to be ideal. No doubt it will take much practice to adjust to the new ball, but those who are critical of the new ball are worried much about statistics. Turnovers, Rebounds, shot percentage etc.
    But as long as both teams are playing with the same ball it makes very little difference.

    Comment by Mutwiri -

  73. I’m wondering if the Synthetic ball bouncing erratically is caused by the higher friction coefficient. For example: depending on how they are dropping the ball, if the synthetic ball has any kind of spin on it as it falls, when it hits the floor, it will grip the floor better and therefore bounce more erratic than the leather ball with the same spin. Im no scientist (computer geek, myself) but I did take a couple of physics classes in college (we wont get into the grades here). It would seem to make sense if there is any sort of spin (however minimal) that the synthetic ball would translate that spin into more erratic bouncing than the leather simply b/c it grips better. Its kind of like throwing a spinning basketball and hula hoop. The basketball grips better and therefore bounces back on the first contact vs. the hula hoop which spins in place for a while before spinning back. I would think this has something to do with the friction coefficients.

    Comment by Evan -

  74. Aside from the balls, are there not an infinite amount of other influences? Barometric pressure, miles above sea level, temperature, age and type of the floor, humidity, etc. Since the new balls affect ALL teams and players, the impact should be equal throughout, correct?

    It seems to me that I would rather tackle all the issues that are inconsistent between teams and may cause differences (and possibly advantages) in play… like the floors, the temperature, and the humidity. In testing the new balls, it would be interesting to note the difference in action with changes in the external environment.

    Perhaps the new balls are less affected – and therefore an advantage to better competition.

    Very interesting!

    Comment by Doug Karr -

  75. ML: you obviously don’t read this blog often enough to know that Mark cares about rules and fairness in a sport he loves. If I owned an NBA team, I would also be worried about balls, nets, whistles, coaches, and everything else that goes along with the game.

    Comment by Todd -

  76. Does it really make a difference if both teams have to play with the same ball, meaning no one will really have an advantage over the other team? They both will face the same challenge adjusting to the new ball.

    However I do agree with switching the ball every quarter but that too could create complaints from other teams saying they would rather keep the same ball since they are already use to that ball now after playing with it in the first quarter so just wipe it down- with a towel.

    It seems like a no win situation. but in all fairness the NBA teams should all vote and Make the call on that one instead of the NBA officials since they dont actually have to play with the new balls.

    Heres a question? Do other teams feel the same way you do, do you know, maybe you should find out (how many teams say the new ball sucks) and if yes is there anything the fans can do about this issue or is it just one of those things that are not up for debate?

    Comment by Crazyglues -

  77. This move to change the basketball in hopes to standardize the game is not at all uncharacteristic of a league that remains out of touch with both its customers and its employees. Professional Sports associations like the NFL and NBA turn a blind eye to the very component that keeps their jobs intact. It seems as if they rule their world with a very Draconian like code in order to bring sanity to a seemingly unruly employee base. What they don’t understand is their sport is not white collar work, its entertainment. You and I don’t really get excited when we see Kevin Garnett sitting court-side in a suit and tie, there is nothing to celebrate there. Nor do we have a problem with end-zone celebrations in the NFL, that’s part of the game. In fact Micheal Jordan was a well known trash talker, so much so that he beat his opponent both physically and mentally. Things like no group celebrations, taunting, dress code requirements, fines for speaking your mind are not helping the professional sports world. They are removing the flair that dynamic players bring to a dynamic game. They are slowly removing the components of a game that are directly related to its success and overall entertainment value. As far as the ball replacement goes, that’s just bad business practice. If you want to standardize the game start with the referees. Introduce an instant replay system to catch bad calls and let the players actually determine the outcome of the game. NBA commissioner, if you really want to standardize the ball that’s fine. However let the players try it out in preseason and then get feedback. Take that feedback, make the improvements and try it again in the next preseason. Stagger the introduction of the ball in order to put the best possible tools in the hand of your employees. Business 101 for an origination that runs itself like a possible GED candidate.

    Comment by Hass -

  78. This is why we like you Mark. You have the pull to actually do this. We’d all be saying “I wish we could have someone look at this empirically,” then here you are actually doing it. Nice going. 🙂

    Comment by Mat Chavez -

  79. Are you really that invaluable to society that you spend your time and money worrying about the physics basketballs? People are still going to fill the stands to see the games regardless of what ball is used. The Mavs are good, people like the Mavs, people don’t care about the basketballs.

    This is the dumbest thing I have ever seen. You are a true Blartist, can you blog about something people actually care about? This blog was a waste of your time, my time, everyone’s time, and a lot of money that could have gone to something better.

    I can’t believe I’m dignifying this blog with a response. I’m going to go vomit now. Then I’m going to sue you for the 15 minutes I just spend reading this blog and responding to it. That’ll be $10, please.

    Comment by ML -

  80. Wow, i would have never thought about their being a difference or it even mattering. Thats some cool info though. Kind of a “See how far we’ve come” experiment most people wouldnt have considered.

    Comment by Justin -

  81. “we need balls” (oliver kahn, german goalkeeper)

    Comment by george -

Comments are closed.