The NBA and Wilson Sporting Goods Co. unveiled the new official game ball that will be used starting with the 2021-22 season on Thursday, ending a 37-year partnership with Spalding.
The Wilson game ball, which begins its multi-year partnership with the league in advance of the 75th season, will first be used at the 2021 NBA draft combine in Chicago from June 21-27. Wilson is also the manufacturer of WNBA balls.
“Our feeling was Spalding is a company at the top of that pyramid, but Wilson certainly shares that reputation with them,” Sal LaRocca, NBA president of global partnership told Yahoo Sports. "Wilson is highly regarded in the basketball world. In the first 74 NBA seasons, Wilson had the first 37 and Spalding had the next 37. So our running joke is these partnerships may change every 37 years.”
The process of manufacturing a new ball exceeded a full year due to the pandemic striking, prompting a deliberate and innovative path to working with players on what the final outcome of the new ball would feel like.
“Nothing like this has even been done. We actually developed and worked with the NBA, the NBA players, the Players Association and the NBA on-court team and developed a game back while everyone was on lockdown,” Kevin Murphy, general manager of Wilson Team Sports told Yahoo Sports. “Lots of balls were shipped across the globe, especially to players back and forth. We had numerous zoom calls with players and team reps. It was just an amazing collaboration.”
Initially, there were some concerns from players when news broke over a year ago that the league would be switching its game ball manufacturer.
But that apprehension dissipated once players realized how much their recommendations and opinions were being used to tailor the ball.
“No one was asking for major changes, but what they wanted was consistency,” Murphy said. “These are the best players in the world and they have a certain level of expectations. That’s why when we started working with the NBA, we all agreed that we’re not going to change the specs of the basketball. What we needed to do was deliver the product they were already using and make sure that everything feels consistent as we transition from one maker to another.
“The good news is what we predicted at the beginning was the fact it would be a collaborative effort and we would follow the players and make sure we’re producing a product the players want and we did get there. It took the full year to get there, and actually a little more than the full year because of the situation. But we got there. So we feel really great about it.”
Balls were shipped to hundreds of players for feedback. And each team rep was tasked with introducing the ball to their teammates for assessment. Since the 2020-21 season was completed in the bubble in Orlando, those teams didn’t have access to the new Wilson ball until its season concluded.
“We went from six samples, to three, to two, to one,” Jose Calderon, special assistant to the executive director at National Basketball Players Association told Yahoo Sports. “But any time you introduce something new and even more importantly something new like a basketball, our everyday tool, everybody is going to have a difference of opinion. The process was long but we did the best we could to get everybody’s feedback and we’re happy with where we ended up.”
With Wilson solely committed to distributing the balls to as many teams and players as quickly as possible, fans will have to wait a little longer to get their hands on the new ball.
“We’re going to position the ball at about $150 retail,” Murphy said. “The process took a bit of time due to the pandemic, but our ramp-up is all focused on making sure the players and teams get the product first. What will make it easier for consumers is the only place to get a game ball right now for the foreseeable future will be Wilson.com because we just can’t make them fast enough to be able to make widespread distribution yet.”
The Wilson ball will feature the same leather, the same eight-panel configuration and performance specifications as the current Spalding ball.
Wilson is also creating an NBA Advisory Staff that will feature Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young and Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, where they’ll work with the company on providing product feedback.
Overall, both sides appear to be happy with the final product.
“I think the more we play with it, the better the ball will get and the more comfortable they’ll be,” Calderon said. “Because the challenge was players trying the new basketball during the season. Guys don’t want to practice with a new ball when they’re in season. So we had to wait.”
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