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Having a ball

Sports | Players want to take a pass on new microfiber basketball

Issue: "Demsnami," Nov. 4, 2006

It wasn't broke, but the NBA fixed it anyway. And few players are happy about it. On the advent of the new NBA season, players are up in arms about a new microfiber composite basketball to replace the old leather Spaldings the NBA has used for more than 20 years.

League commissioner David Stern can list myriad reasons why the NBA has finally switched to the composite ball: According scientific testing, the balls provide a more consistent feel, handle better in chilly northern arenas, and don't get as slick. But lab testing and court testing are two different things. Some players have complained loudly. Their position: Why change a good thing? Heat center Shaquille O'Neal says the new basketball doesn't feel quite real. "It feels like one of those cheap balls that you buy at the toy store-indoor-outdoor balls," he said.

Shaq reportedly had trouble with the new ball in the Heat's training camp. Other players complain about the new pattern of stripes on the new ball. On the leather balls, many players lined up their index fingers at the intersection of the ball's stripes to set up free throws. The new ball has no intersecting stripes.

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Some players are taking the new balls with fatalistic acceptance. "I think it will help in the cold-weather cities," the Celtics' Wally Szczerbiak, one of the league's top shooters, told The Boston Globe. "When it was cold and dry, the old leather ball used to get really slippery and slick and hard. This composite ball has a much better grip. Right now, it's almost a little too grippy. When your hands get wet, it feels like you have stickum on them. It's a drastic feel, a drastic difference, but you've got to be open-minded about it and deal with it." Especially since the commissioner indicates he has no intentions of going back to leather.

Around the Horn

BASEBALL: If Japanese baseball star Daisuke Matsuzaka is looking for money, he found the right man. The 26-year-old Japanese pitcher hired Scott Boras as he prepares to jump across the Pacific and into the major leagues. Like Japanese stars Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, Matsuzaka should cause quite a stir. Some reports indicate his Japanese club will require between $15 million and $30 million just to negotiate with the pitching star. Matsuzaka may be best known for rumors that he throws the mythical gyroball-a silver-bullet-type pitch invented by Japanese scientists.

NFL: Quick: Name the highest rated cable show ever prior to Oct. 23's Monday Night Football game featuring the Dallas Cowboys versus the New York Giants. The game became cable television's highest rated show ever after the ESPN matchup bested the previous top-watched cable moment, a 1993 debate between then-Vice President Al Gore and Texas businessman Ross Perot on the merits of NAFTA.

BASEBALL: After signing an agreement that extends baseball's labor deal until 2011, Commissioner Bud Selig called this a "golden era" in the sport's history. The deal between owners and the baseball players union makes few changes to the deal forged in 2002. "They were without the usual rancor. They were without the usual dueling press conferences. They were without the usual leaks," said Selig, delivering a backhanded compliment to the union. "In other words, these negotiations were conducted professionally, with dignity and with results." In baseball labor negotiations, that's not bad at all.

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