NBA Reverses Call as Stern Signature Ball to Be Bounced on Exit

The National Basketball Association’s next commissioner will get his own ball after all.

The NBA and Spalding, in an about-face, said official game balls will carry Adam Silver’s signature beginning the day he succeeds David Stern, who is stepping down Feb. 1. Spalding, a part of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/A)’s Fruit of the Loom unit, had said game-used balls would carry Stern’s signature for the entire 2013-14 season.

The company, which has made the official ball since the 1983-84 season, changed course after a Bloomberg News story on June 6 reported the league’s signature piece of equipment would carry an outdated signature for much of next season, said Paul Sullivan, a senior vice president at Spalding.

“After that article came out we talked a lot more about the NBA,” Sullivan said in a telephone interview from company headquarters in Bowling Green, Kentucky. “We jumped through hoops making sure the NBA has Adam Silver balls that are broken in and ready for Feb. 1.”

Putting Silver’s signature on the basketball will help to cement him in the top job after Stern’s 30-year stewardship, said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.

“It was like asking the new CEO to use the former CEO’s business cards until they ran out,” Swangard said in an e-mail. “New leader, new ball ... Just the right thing to do.”

‘Bounce Machine’

Stern, 71, succeeded Larry O’Brien as commissioner on Feb. 1, 1984, and game balls for the rest of that season carried O’Brien’s signature.

Spalding has provided each NBA team with 72 Stern-signed basketballs for use this season, which begins Oct. 29. In December, the company will give each of the 30 clubs 36 -- half a season’s worth -- of Silver-signed basketballs for use over the remainder of the schedule.

Two months is more than enough time for players to get the Silver-signed balls ready for game use, Sullivan said.

“The only way to break-in a leather game ball is by playing with it,” he said.

Sullivan said basketballs are put in what he called a “bounce machine” and checked 50 times for things like weight and rotation before they’re sent to the teams.

Prototype Approved

Spalding already created the new basketball prototype. The process called for Silver, the NBA’s deputy commissioner and chief operating officer since 2006, to sign two index cards. Sal LaRocca, the league’s executive vice president in charge of global merchandising, then picked the one he thought was better. LaRocca electronically forwarded his choice to Spalding, which manufactured the prototype for league approval.

All of Spalding’s suppliers have switched to producing Silver-signed basketballs, Sullivan said. In June, there were more than 300,000 Stern-signed balls in the pipeline, company spokeswoman Wendy Unger-Moore said at the time.

Sullivan said the idea is to exhaust Stern-signed balls around Feb. 1, which is the target date for Silver-signed balls to be available at retail outlets. The company has the final Stern-signed ball ever produced, as well as the first Silver-signed ball, and plans to present them to the two men soon, he said.

The game ball sells for $169.95 on the NBA Store website.

The National Football League is the most recent of the four major U.S. sports leagues to change commissioners, with Roger Goodell succeeding Paul Tagliabue on Aug. 8, 2006. The next day, Tagliabue presented the new leader with a Goodell-signed football, which Wilson produced by lifting his signature from the company’s contract with the league, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. Goodell had been the league’s chief operating officer.

The NFL’s season started a month later with teams using footballs signed by the new commissioner.

To contact the reporter on this story: Scott Soshnick in New York at ssoshnick@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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