The NBA hasunveiled a new game ball with a microfiber outer shell that will replace theleather balls in use since 1946. Synthetic rocks are supposed to replicate thecowhide ones--but without wearing out. They're a tough sell, though: Playerssay they're too slick. Jazz forward Mehmet Okur mentioned it was "likecatching an ice cube" and promised "about a million turnovers thisyear." Shaquille O'Neal (above) said it feels "like one of those cheapballs that you buy at the toy store." On Sunday, commissioner David Sternsaid he was ordering extensive tests on the ball and didn't rule out a returnto leather. Is the new orb destined to go the way of these short-livedequipment innovations?
The glowing puckIntroduced in 1996, it looked like a regular puck, but it had a chip insidethat caused it to glow blue on Fox telecasts. Though it made the puck easier tosee on TV, traditionalists wailed ("an embarrassment," said BarryMelrose). Fox dumped it in '98.
The spaghettistring tennis racket In 1977 in Aix-en-Provence, Ilie Nastase used a racketwith strings that weren't interlaced, allowing him to put wicked spin on theball. The ITF outlawed it, but the ban didn't go into effect until after thetournament. So Nastase (left) used it in the finals, to the dismay of GuillermoVilas, who stormed off the court down two sets to love. That broke Vilas'srecord 50-match winning streak. "I didn't lose to a player, but against aracket," he said.
Orange baseballsIntroduced by Charlie Finley (who else?) in 1973, the bright balls were said tobe easier to see at night. Pitchers found them slick, and hitters said theycouldn't pick up the spin because they couldn't see the seams. Even nonplayerswere suspicious. Finley presented one to Henry Kissinger, who did not accept ituntil the Secret Service checked it out. They lasted one exhibition game.
October 15, 2006
Sensor baseballsIn 1970 MLB experimented with a laser device placed behind the plate that wouldcall balls and strikes. Alas, anything that went over the plate--including theglove of a wily catcher--resulted in a strike call. The inventors fixed that byplacing a metal chip in the ball. But the balls cost $300 each and came withthe request that they not be hit lest they break. The idea was quicklyabandoned.
White footballsThe bright balls were used by the NFL, and some colleges, for night games inthe early 1950s. Proof that a white football just doesn't look like a realfootball: When former Giants G.M. George Young was a player at Bucknell, ateammate yelled "Fumble!" so Young, a lineman, dived on the first whitething he saw and refused to let go. It was a white Bucknell helmet. With ateammate's head in it. The NFL went all brown in '56.