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Phil Jackson denies illegally deflating basketballs while playing for the Knicks

Phil Jackson, James Dolan, executive chairman of the Madison Square Garden Company

Phil Jackson, James Dolan, executive chairman of the Madison Square Garden Company


The NFL has suffered through Deflategate, and now the NBA has its own version to discuss -- albeit one that occurred four decades ago.

A 1986 Chicago Tribune article was dug up on Wednesday, and featured a story involving Phil Jackson admitting to deflating basketballs to give his Kicks teams of the 1970s an advantage over opponents.

From the original piece:

“What we used to do was deflate the ball,” recalls Phil Jackson, the cerebral reserve forward who was every bit as metaphysical as he was physical.

“We were a short term with our big guys like Willis, our center, only about 6-8 and Jerry Lucas also 6-8. DeBusschere, 6-6. So what we had to rely on was boxing out and hoping the rebound didn’t go long.

“To help ensure that, we’d try to take some air out of the ball. You see, on the ball it says something like ‘inflate to 7 to 9 pounds.’ We’d all carry pins and take the air out to deaden the ball.

“It also helped our offense because we were a team that liked to pass the ball without dribbling it, so it didn’t matter how much air was in the ball. It also kept other teams from running on us because when they’d dribble the ball, it wouldn’t come up so fast.

While Jackson didn’t deny using the tactic altogether, he did take to Twitter to clarify that what he did was well within the rules.

joy of tweet is correcting errors. Knicks used under inflated balls. wrong! ball has7-9lbs psi. we wanted 7 psi softer but not illegal.

— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) January 28, 2015

Jackson’s defense of the tactic is dubious, at best. When he and his teammates were using pins to deflate the balls, it’s a little difficult to envision pressure gauges being available to make sure that the 7-psi threshold was being met at all times.