Before the start of this year's NBA season, the league introduced a new game ball, made of a microfiber material which was supposed to be more consistent than the old leather balls. The new ball, it was claimed, would absorb moisture better, giving players a better grip.
Just one problem. The players hate it.
Since the beginning of training camp, players have been upset with the switch to a ball that was supposed to have more consistency in the way it handles and bounces. Instead it has less. According to many players surveyed over the past two months, the new ball has stuck to the players’ hands, become frequently lodged between the rim and the backboard, and has also not been able to absorb moisture as well as the leather ball.
Steve Nash, the Phoenix point guard and two-time league most valuable player, wore bandages on his fingers last week because of cuts caused by the new ball. The Nets’ Jason Kidd, and the Dallas Mavericks’ Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki have all spoken out against the material, complaining of cuts on their hands.
The league didn't bother to talk to the players beforehand -- instead, they reached a deal with Spalding to create the ball, and then had a big marketing push this summer about it (in interests of disclosure, I featured the ball in Wired).
It's kind of unfathomable that a league would overhaul the one essential tool of its sport without talking to the players who use it on a daily basis. NBA commissioner David Stern, not one for backing down, has admitted the league made a mistake; meanwhile, the player's union has filed a grievance, looking to return to the old ball.
My guess? The leather ball will be back within weeks, and this whole episode will be another case study in the law of unforeseen consequences.