It's surprising, somehow, that 35 years have passed since the NBA updated its game ball – for only the second time in 60 seasons. (Imagine if uniform shorts had gone unaltered for that long.) Also surprising: how different this new "rock" is.
The Spalding Game Ball shed its old leather skin for a microfiber composite and something called Cross Traxxion technology, which marries that material to a new design: two interlocking panels rather than the eight oblong panels on a traditional ball. Spalding has applied "moisture management" and reduced the number of black-stripe "channels."
It won't turn a bricklayer into Dwyane Wade, but this ball is indisputably easier to grip. It feels smaller and easier to palm, though it meets existing size and weight specifications. Big advertised advantages: none of the break-in time required of leather, and out-of-the-box consistency in terms of feel. (Some NBA players – including Shaq – already differ.)
One measure of its stickiness: On relatively tight nets at the fitness club where we threw it up, the ball actually hung up a few times. (The new leather ball against which we tested it never did.) The new ball hit shelves this week (at $100), its makers undoubtedly banking on the buzz of the new pro season to get driveway dribblers to whip it around. Game on.