The Whiteboard: NBA switching from Spalding to Wilson is not a big deal

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Reading a headline without actually reading the article is a bad habit 99.9 percent of us have fallen victim to at some point in time, even among the most diligent readers, fact-checkers and journalists among us.

So on Wednesday, when Yahoo! Sports‘ Chris Haynes broke the news that the NBA would be switching its official game ball from Spalding to Wilson starting in 2021-22, the headline was met with shock and, quite frankly, a ton of overreaction.

Spalding has been the official basketball of the league since 1983 — so basically, the NBA’s entire modern era. Now, during the 2021-22 season that will mark the NBA’s 75th anniversary, it will switch back to Wilson, which had been the league’s official game ball for 37 years until 1983.

Anyone who’s ever played, purchased or owned a basketball knows Spalding and Wilson balls are noticeably different. Spalding balls tend to be a little more rubbery, making them better for gripping but slightly more challenging for shooting and dribbling without sticking. Wilson balls, meanwhile, are generally softer and smoother, making them a little more difficult to palm but easier to shoot. Wilson is a shooter’s ball; Spalding is a dunker’s ball.

Because of such a supposedly drastic switch, and because change is always scary, people’s natural reaction was to freak out. In this writer’s opinion, the Wilson Evolution is a vastly superior ball and Spalding hasn’t made a great basketball since the TF-1000, but that whole debate is irrelevant.

Why? Because, again, it’s important to read past the headline: As Haynes points out in his story, the same leather and product specifications will be used to produce the new Wilson balls. The NBA and National Basketball Players Association will assist with the process, creating a player advisory board to offer suggestions.

So basically, the only thing that will change for the NBA, WNBA, NBA G League, NBA 2K League and Basketball Africa League is that the name “Wilson” will be slapped on the ball where “Spalding” used to be.

In all honesty, that’s probably for the best. NBA basketball is freer than ever in this pace-and-space era, leading to high-scoring contests and teams launching 3-pointers at an unprecedented rate. Even if these new Wilson balls weren’t made the same way as Spalding balls, these guys are so good they’d quickly adjust. Because of this, it’s probably better if the new balls didn’t make 3-point shooting even easier.

While it’s frightening to imagine what the shot-happy NBA would be able to do with a shooter’s ball like your typical Wilson basketball, it’s probably for the best that the material and makeup of these new balls will remain the same as always. There won’t be any upset players, cheat codes for a league that already puts a premium on long-range efficiency or unnecessary criticism over making a drastic change.

In vintage 2020 form, this is just a rebrand — nothing more.


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