When the Wizards play the Houston Rockets in their preseason opener on Tuesday night, their players will be taking the next step in an ongoing adjustment to the NBA's new basketball. After 38 years with Spalding basketballs, the league has returned to Wilson as its official game ball manufacturer.
Wilson produced the NBA's basketballs originally from the league's inception in 1946 to 1983 when Spalding took over. That means no current players have played an NBA game with a Wilson ball.
Though the basketballs are the same size, shape and weight, there are subtle differences. No one knows that better than the veteran NBA players who because of their profession are the most experienced experts you can find on the matter.
"It’s an adjustment. It’s definitely different," Bradley Beal said. "It’s a little slicker. The word ‘Wilson’ isn’t embossed as ‘Spalding’ was.’ It has its differences, but once it’s broken in, it feels pretty much the same. It’s just a matter of getting used to it."
Davis Bertans, whose prevailing skill is three-point shooting, had a lot to say on the matter. He also acknowledged it will take some getting used to, but is just happy it's a better basketball than the one he had to play with during the offseason when he was with the Latvian national team.
"Well, since during the summer with the national team we had to play with the Molten, which they changed two or three years back. It wasn’t great before. A lot of NBA players when they go to their national teams, they complain about the basketballs," he said.
"I will tell you this, they are 10 times as worse as it was five years ago. After the Molten one, I took the Wilson ball and I thought ‘finally, I get to touch a real basketball.’ So, I know how it would be if I was switching straight from Spalding to Wilson right away. But having that Molten in the middle was definitely a bonus for Wilson."
Clearly, Bertans believes the texture of the basketball matters. When shooting from three-point range against NBA defenders, he needs to be as precise as possible. Being comfortable with the basketball he's shooting helps.
Aaron Holiday has to handle the ball a lot as a point guard. He feels pretty much up-to-speed after spending the summer playing with the ball in offseason workouts.
"It’s for sure a different feel. Just playing a lot of basketball, a lot of pick-up and working out, you kind of adjust to the way the ball feels. Just breaking it in helps a lot, too. It’s a little different feel for me, but at the end of the day, it’s a basketball. That’s what we get paid to do, so we’ll figure it out," he said.
Fans are unlikely to notice a difference when watching the game on television or even in person. But as the players describe it, there's no question the league's change will play at least a small factor early on.