For over three decades, Spalding was the official basketball supplier of the National Basketball Association (NBA). However, in 2021, the NBA decided not to renew its contract with Spalding and announced that it would be switching to a new supplier, Wilson, starting from the 2021-22 season. This decision surprised many basketball fans, as Spalding had been synonymous with the NBA for such a long time. So, why did the NBA switch from Spalding to Wilson?
This article will discuss why that transition happened, as well as the reasons behind the change.
Spalding and NBA’s Partnership
As mentioned, Spalding and the NBA have become so intertwined. After all, Spalding was the league’s official basketball since 1983, a time which coincided with the beginning of the league’s glory years.
From there, Spalding took the driver’s seat and became the league’s official game ball manufacturer. Spalding became the NBA’s exclusive ball creator. This was owing to the company’s usage of full-grain leather. It felt superb in the hands of the participants, offered a better handle, and provided a far better playing experience.
It was an instant hit with both the players and the coaches. Everyone liked the way it looked and felt. The Spalding print on the NBA ball quickly became one of the most well-known and well-recognized images in sports.
Apart from that, Spalding even enhanced their initial model. They improved the ball’s durability, employed unusual materials, and even created versions with two interlocking panels rather than the standard eight.
However, as they say, some good things do come to an end. Both parties could not agree to the terms of a new deal after the 2020-21 season, so they decided to part ways amicably. That being said, Spalding will continue manufacturing the NBA’s official backboards and rims as well as selling basketballs.
When Did the NBA Start Using Wilson Basketball?
The NBA started using Wilson basketball again at the start of the 2021-22 season. Wilson will also serve as the official ball for the WNBA, G-League, and Basketball Africa League, although the terms of the agreement were kept private.
The move was met with mixed reactions. The ball was supposed to be made from the same raw materials, but there was a big difference as far as players were concerned. In fact, at the beginning of the 2021-22 season, the field shooting across the league was down 2%. It can be attributed to many different factors, but the elephant in the room is the new Wilson ball.
Clippers superstar Paul George, Suns All-Star Devin Booker, and NBPA President CJ McCollum pointed toward Wilson as the possible problem. Booker said the ball has an inconsistent feel, while PG felt the ball does not have the same touch and softness as Spalding. McCollum wasn’t as critical as Booker and George, mentioning the adjustment all players needed to make to the new Wilson Basketball.
While these three known scorers did not like the change initially, NBA superstar Kevin Durant did not share the same sentiment. He told Matt Brooks of Nets Daily: “For me, it just feels the same.”
However, both statements could be factual. Durant may not have a problem with the Wilson ball because he adjusted to it quickly, while the others needed a little more time to get used to it.
Wilson and NBA Partnership Before Spalding
Before the renewal of Wilson and NBA ties in 2021, the parties were already familiar with each other because of their long history. In fact, Wilson has been the official ball of the NBA since 1946, when it was still called the Basketball Association of America! That means Wilson was the NBA’s ball manufacturer for the league’s first 37 years of existence, while Spalding was given the keys to the next 37!
Sal LaRocca, the NBA President of Global Partnership, alluded to this when he said: “Our feeling was Spalding is a company at the top of that pyramid, but Wilson certainly shares that reputation with them. 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.”
Larocca’s statement about Wilson’s reputation is substantiated by the fact that the company has partnered with many prestigious leagues across the globe. For instance, Wilson manufactures the official ball for the US Open and French Open. They also supply official game balls for the NCAA Beach Volleyball and Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP). Wilson balls are also used in NCAA Soccer and Basketball. And last but not least, every touchdown scored in the NFL has been scored using a Wilson ball.
Why Did NBA Stop Using Spalding?
Spalding released the final batch of game balls they produced for the NBA on June 2021. That marked the end of a 37-year run where Spalding served as the official game ball manufacturer of the world’s premiere basketball league.
The two parties, the NBA and Spalding, had consistently talked about why the NBA had to switch from Spalding to Wilson. They couldn’t agree on specific terms for the partnership to move forward.
“As an NBA partner, it has been our privilege to have Spalding played by the greatest athletes in the world,” Murphy told Complex. “Over several months in late 2019 and early 2020, Spalding and the NBA worked earnestly on a new, go-forward partnership. However, we simply could not agree on terms, and it was mutually agreed that the 2020-2021 season would be our last.”
Therefore, this wasn’t about Spalding vs. Wilson basketball all along. The points of disagreement were apparently never mentioned, but it appears Wilson simply took over because either Spalding of the NBA wouldn’t relent to each other’s request.
The NBA and Spalding had a smooth working relationship, at least from the outside looking in. The partnership wouldn’t have lasted nearly four decades if that’s not the case. The only wrinkle was the failed composite microfiber ball experiment in 2006, forcing the league to return to using leather balls.
Spalding vs. Wilson Basketball
Now that the answer to the question, “Why did the NBA change from Spalding to Wilson?” has already been answered, basketball aficionados wonder if one is better than the other. NBA players took time to adjust to the feel of the new Wilson ball, but that hasn’t been the case lately. So, what about the other consumers who have tried both Spalding and Wilson basketballs?
Spalding and Wilson manufacture different types of balls from outdoor to indoor use. For simplicity’s sake, consider the reviews of the NBA game ball from both manufacturers. Right now, the Wilson Official NBA Game ball edges Spalding Official according to their Amazon ratings.
It’s also worth noting that the best-rated ball from Wilson is the Evolution , while Spalding’s is the .
What Do NBA Players Say About the New Wilson Game Ball?
The previous section mentioned Paul George, Devin Booker, and CJ McCollum’s criticism of the new Wilson Game Ball, while Kevin Durant said it feels just the same. Wilson may side with Durant here because they are adamant that their game ball was made from the same materials as the previous Spalding ball.
However, most NBA players would disagree. In addition to the trio above, big men Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic complained about the ball’s lack of grip. But, in the end, it’s all about adjustments, as NBA veteran Otto Porter indicated: “It just takes some time to get used to, but you’ll eventually get used to it. It’s just everybody’s different.”
Wrapping Things Up: Why Did the NBA Switch from Spalding to Wilson?
The only constant thing in the world is change, so it’s not really surprising that the NBA made the change from Spalding to Wilson after 37 years. Wilson has also been the previous partner of the NBA from 1946 to 1983 and has manufactured official balls for the NFL, AVP, NCAA Soccer, and NCAA Basketball. So it’s not like the company is wet behind the ears.
However, one might ask, Why did the NBA switch from Spalding to Wilson? It’s because the league and Spalding failed to agree on the terms for a contract extension, and thus, they mutually agreed to move on. The NBA players took a while to adjust to the new game ball, but it’s safe to say they are trending in the right direction.
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