Monday, December 11, 2006

David Stern is With Leather

Verily, I shall defend the ball you seek with my last breath!

When I heard that David Stern was considering criticisms of the new synthetic NBA ball, I was surprised. The commish does not exactly project the aura of a man who is interested all points of view. Indeed, I still had to acknowledge that in all likelihood, David would still get his way. That's what he does: he makes decisions, and expects people to deal with them. Maybe he'd form a committee to consider other options, but staff it with incredibly convincing androids. Or, claim that he'd be happy to switch back, but that the old ball is currently being held by an angry wizard deep in a mountain cave. I love what David Stern has done for the league, but I don't expect him to cross the aisle. Maybe make snide comments about the other side of the aisle, but that's about it.

Color me shocked. Indications are that an announcement from the NBA will be made tomorrow: they will return to the old, leather ball on January 1st. It appears that what sealed the fate of the new ball was the small cuts and abrasions it caused on the hands of players. I think this was the right choice. Pushing a product that hurts your employees is a losing battle. And more importantly, very few of the justifications that were offered for the transition held any water. It couldn't be said that scoring needed a jump start, because Points Per Game has steadily climbed over the last couple seasons. In fact, the master of fast break basketball, Steve Nash, complained about the poor handle the new ball gave. Obviously, the cost of a leather ball couldn't be a deciding factor. Only two explanations made any sense: consistency, and the fact that it didn't use animal products. Ultimately, that wasn't enough to keep it afloat.

Beyond the giddy pleasure of seeing the players association get something they want, I am curious to see how David reacts. In my mind, there are three options, which I will rank here from least likely to most likely. First, the commissioner is cowed by his defeat and decides to take on a more bipartisan style of leadership in order to avoid future humiliation. Second, he chooses not to take it personally but also doesn't alter his decision-making process, compartmentalizing this exchange as a rare case. Third, he pushes his next initiative through with such venegance that the streets run red with the blood of the unbelievers. Yeah, I'm leaning towards number three.

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