‘20/’21 will be Spalding’s 37th and final season as NBA’s official ball. Wilson, their original partner, will return as the official manufacturer of game balls for the National Basketball Association. The announcement pointed out that Wilson will use leather from the same supplier, and ‘the new balls will keep the same eight-panel configuration and performance specifications as the ones currently used.’
It’s not often you announce a new partner and make sure to point out everything will stay the same. Usually, a new partner boasts about new technology and describes all the way they will improve whatever they are bringing to the table. That’s a consequence of the 2006 synthetic ball - one of NBA’s biggest fiascos.
A moment that was supposed to mark a significant move towards cutting edge technology turned out to be a three-month disaster. The league had decided to replace the traditional leather ball in favor of a microfiber composite one. The sporting goods manufacturing industry widely viewed the composite material as the future. It didn’t hurt it was cheaper to produce and were supposed to feel broken in from the box.
Most people don’t know players don’t like playing with new balls. Actually, all balls used in a season are broken in by teams during training camps and preseason. The “New Ball” was supposed to solve that problem, and be marketable to the general public. The story was Spalding, and the NBA spent two years developing it before it was introduced - players’ reactions wouldn’t lead to such a conclusion.
“Right off the rim when I first started gripping it, I didn’t like it. It felt like plastic.”
Stephen Jackson, Complex
Players experienced a lot more cuts on their fingers and unanimously trashed the ball in public. Marc Cuban requested that the University of Texas at Austin’s physics department commission a comparison of the old and new ball. They did just that and determined that while there were no noticeable differences in dry conditions, “but the leather ball changed very little when it got wet, whereas the rubber ball became very slippery.”
After three months and a lot of complaining, David Stern admitted defeat and announced the NBA was returning to the old leather ball. His statement said that the NBA and Spalding did extensive testing and found the new ball to be superior, but the most critical opinion was that of players, and they gave their verdict.
“It was just a feeling like you got your girlfriend back.”
Stephen Jackson, Complex
That’s why NBA and Wilson made sure to point out that not only will they use the same specifications and suppliers on the ball Wilson will introduce, but NBA players will also have a role in approving, developing, and refining the new ball. They won’t make the same mistake again.