The NBA will use leather basketballs in its developmental league next season, temporarily ending its attempts to reintroduce a composite ball at the NBA level, a league official has confirmed.
"We are committed to leather for the foreseeable future," said league spokesman Tim Frank. "We just realized leather is what our guys wanted."
That means Spalding will remain one of two companies manufacturing a leather basketball. Molten also produces a ball for FIBA that is made of a different type of leather than the NBA ball.
Most college and high school conferences, as well as some foreign and international leagues, use balls made of synthetic material because they're less expensive to produce and provide more consistency from ball to ball.
The NBA introduced a composite ball at the start of the 2006-07 season, but after complaints from players that the balls became slick from perspiration and left tiny cuts on their fingertips, the league returned to leather in January 2007.
The league hoped to develop a composite ball that met its players' approval, and to that end, according to sources, experimented with three different types of composite balls in the
D-League last season.
It also formed a committee of top NBA players to test the new versions and offer their input, something that was not done the first time.
The production cost for Spalding, the company that makes the league's official ball, was one reason the league looked to switch to a composite material. The plan now is to develop a two-paneled ball, rather than the current eight-panel model.
The two-panel design was used on the composite ball and did not raise any complaints. Spalding is supposedly hoping that the feature can be used as a marketing tool.
The D League will begin next season using an eight-paneled leather ball and then switch to a two-paneled version sometime around midseason, Frank said.
Senior writer Ric Bucher covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine.