Wilson Sporting Goods will be supplying the NBA with its new
game ball beginning next season, and there should not be another
“slippery ball” fiasco like the one the league endured a
Emphasis on the word “should.”
Beginning when the NBA was in the Bubble in Florida last summer,
players have been given samples of the new ball that will be used
next season under terms of a multi-year partnership between Wilson
and the league. Nobody has complained publicly, though it remains
to be seen how the ball will hold up under game use.
One note of reassurance: The leather is manufactured by the same
manufacturer, Horween Leather, that has been supplying Spalding,
according to Wilson Sporting Goods spokeswoman Sarah Houseknecht.
The ball will look nearly identical, using the same eight-seam
design currently in use.
In the 2006-07 season, the “new” Spalding ball was made of a
synthetic material that players quickly complained was too
slippery. There were also complaints that it was not as bouncy as
the old ball, and that players were getting cuts on their hands
because of the surface friction.
The episode turned into a public-relations fiasco for the NBA
and Spalding, and synthetic balls were quickly replaced with the
old model. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was one of the loudest
critics, even commissioning a study at the University of
Texas-Austin physics department to compare the two editions. While
the reported hand cuts could not be explained, the study found the
“new ball” bounced 5-to-8% lower when dropped from four feet, and
that it bounced 30% more erratically than its leather
The players’ union actually filed a complaint with the National
Labor Relations Board over the switch.
When the ball was changed in 2006, teams actually went into
their supply closets to find editions of the old leather ball so
that those balls could be put back into use. Some teams had more
than others, and the league made a centralized inventory and
distributed them accordingly. But in that particular season, it was
not uncommon for two teams to be playing a game with a basketball
emblazoned with a third team’s name.
“Our players' response to this particular composite ball has
been consistently negative and we are acting accordingly," Stern
said in a statement on Dec. 11, 2006. “Although testing performed
by Spalding and the NBA demonstrated that the new composite
basketball was more consistent than leather, and statistically
there has been an improvement in shooting, scoring, and
ball-related turnovers, the most important statistic is the view of
It was such a fiasco that former NBA commissioner David Stern
conceded defeat, saying, “I won’t make a spirited defense in
respect to the ball. In hindsight, we could have done a better job.
I take responsibility for that."
Memories are long in the NBA office, and this switch is being
made with the product hopefully having been properly tested. Trae
Young and Jamal Murray are members of Wilson’s advisory staff, in
which they playtest, provide feedback and collaborate on Wilson
The new ball has been available for players to use on their own
time for almost a year, but the proof will come at the start of
next season after the balls -- made of the same material, but by a
new brand -- will be game tested... as will the
The public will be able to purchase official game balls through
Wilson.com beginning July 29, and by mid-August, other
Wilson-licensed products will become available through more
traditional and online retailers.
New balls will also go into use in the G League, the WNBA, the
2K League (virtually) and the Basketball Africa League, with
Wilson's first batch being put into use at the Las Vegas summer
league later this year.
“This partnership with Wilson returns us to our roots as we plan
for the future,” said Salvatore LaRocca, NBA President of Global
Partnerships. “We were partners for 37 seasons dating back to when
Wilson manufactured the first official NBA basketballs in 1946, and
we look forward to growing the game of basketball together.”
Information on current inventory was not available Thursday,
Will the basketball really be the same? It's too soon to
For now, the safe place to file this is under “to be