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Deflategate NBA style — why Phil Jackson always carried an air-pressure gauge

The lengths teams would go to are insane
Phil Jackson checked air pressure in balls before every away game

Phil Jackson checked air pressure in balls before every away game

Deflategate was one of the most controversial scandals in sports history. On one side, you had everyone who hated the Patriots - that's a long list. On the other, an MIT professor (an Eagles fan, by the way) debunked the concept with some physics. In short, things got crazy. 

Well, as it turns out, deflating or overinflating balls isn't an exclusive NFL practice. NBA teams have been doing it for decades, and Phil Jackson was having none of it. 


When you're up against a Hall of Fame coach and the GOAT of the sport, you look for every edge possible. Phil Jackson understood that, and that's why he always had an air-pressure gauge with him for away games. The Zen Master knew teams were messing with the balls to get an advantage. 

“The balls this night in Miami were well below the required 7½ to 8½ pounds. An innocent oversight? Unlikely. With a softer ball players can’t dribble as fast and the game slows. It was what a less talented team like Miami wanted against a running team like the Bulls. Jackson got the balls pumped up and the Heat were deflated.”

Sam Smith, The Jordan Rules

At first other teams would laugh at Jackson for checking the ball pressure before every game. Soon they figured out he wasn't being paranoid - teams were doing all sorts of shenanigans. It's not just deflating the ball. The mighty Showtime Lakers would always seem to accidentally overinflate the balls. 

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“Jackson has caught the Lakers trying to sneak balls with 15 to 17 pounds of air into the game. Why? Magic Johnson likes a high dribble, and a livelier ball results in long rebounds that key the kind of fast break the Lakers love to use, especially at home.”

Sam Smith, The Jordan Rules

And you thought winning on the road was challenging because of the crowd and how they impact referees. The Blazers would also deflate the ball to make them softer, but not because they wanted to play slow as Miami did. The 90s Blazers loved to crash the boards and “and soft balls will stay on the rim longer for offensive rebounds, which was an advantage they had over the Bulls.

Messing with the balls wasn't the only thing home teams did to try and get an advantage. Smith elaborates the lighting was always poor in Washington to mess with shooters. The L.A. Sports Arena awkwardly suspended the backboards, so the ball bounced off unpredictably, and the Celtics were famous for overheating the opponents' locker room. “The nice word for it all is gamesmanship,” Smith concluded.

It takes one to know one

Don't think The Zen Master was a fighter for justice and fairness. The reason he knew where to look was past experience. During Jackson's playing days, it wasn't uncommon for players to mess with the ball during games. They actually carried pins in their belts to deflate the ball when they got the chance.

“We used to deflate the ball because we were a short team and didn’t want long rebounds. It also helped our offense because we liked to pass the ball, and other teams couldn’t run on us as well because the ball wouldn’t come up so fast when they dribbled.”

Phil Jackson, The Jordan Rules

This was all back in the early 90s. Teams aren't pulling stunts like this now, right? I mean, when the AC "stopped working" in San Antonio in 2014, it equally impacted both teams. 

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