That took balls. In an almost stunning reversal, NBA Commissioner David Stern tonight admitted he committed a major turnover. Just days after saying the league would re-examine the new composite basketball, Stern said Monday night that the examining was done and, as was the new fangled rock. As of January 1, hundreds of old leather balls will be pulled from storage and rolled out to a slew of happy ballers.
Although many key stats are up this season (including shooting), a few key players have complained about the new ball since the opening of training camp. Stern and the league thought the complains would subside, a major miscalculation. Star players like Shaquille O’Neal, Steve Nash and LeBron James complained the ball was inconsistent (at best) and almost deadly (some said it left cuts on their hands.) Lesser lights like Knicks center Eddy Curry said the ball naver came off his hands the same way twice.
But let’s be real here. This is not about a daggum space-age basketball. This is about the relationship between the league and its players and how a commissioner that historically has made almost all the right moves, blew this one. “Back in the day,” one former player told me recently, “David would have called Magic, Michael and Larry together, asked them about the ball and if they gave it a thumbs up or down, that would have been that. Those guys aren’t around any more.”
Stern now knows that he should have gained a consensus from his current and emerging stars, starting with the likes of Nash and James and adding Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and perhaps Yao Ming for the international vote. Instead none of them touched the Spalding creation until camp.
Moreover, changing the ball – perhaps the most fundamental element of the game – while also charging the the officials with calling more Ts for whining, well, Stern admits the timing of the two changes might not have been the smartest thing he’s sver done.
The switch-back might turn out to be the smartest thing Stern’s ever done – if it repairs the new strains that were percolating between the league and the players’ union. Last week, the union filed an unfair-labor-practice grievance over the ball with the National Labor Relations Board.
Tonight, NBA union head Billy Hunter praised Stern for his decision to drop the ball and said the union would, in turn, drop its suit.
Baller: Billy Hunter
Gamer: Dave Stern