- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Caron Butler didn’t think much about it when a new basketball was delivered to his doorstep over the summer.

That is, until the Washington Wizards forward read the letter informing him that the new Spalding microfiber composite ball was replacing the old leather one.

“It was shocking,” Butler said. “It just showed up with my name on it with a letter telling me that the old ball was history. So I just started working out with it and tried to get adjusted to the new ball.”

But players like Gilbert Arenas, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James quickly voiced their displeasure with the new ball, which represented the first change in balls in 35 years.

Commissioner David Stern on Monday said the league would switch back to the leather ball beginning Jan. 1, a decision the Wizards welcomed.

“The ball is tradition, and I’m glad David Stern decided to go back to the old ball, so he deserves a lot of credit,” Butler said. “It’s tradition. Players change, but you don’t need to change the game.”

Butler will guard the Denver Nuggets’ high-scoring Carmelo Anthony (30.9 points a game) tonight at Verizon Center as the Wizards try to bounce back from a loss to the Houston Rockets on Saturday.

Butler wasn’t the only player unhappy with the new ball. Arenas complained that it became too slippery when wet. New Jersey Nets guard Jason Kidd said the ball actually cut his fingers — a strange-sounding complaint at first but one later backed up by other players.

Despite the complaints, both scoring and field goal percentages were up around the league.

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, who used the leather ball in his days as a player, said he is fine with the switch back.

“If it makes the players happy, it makes us happy,” Jordan said. “It’s just the way life is. It’s almost like being married: If she’s happy, you’re happy.”

Reserve guard Antonio Daniels, who in his ninth year has been in the league longer than any other player on the roster, takes a different view.

“You know what, we’re professionals, and we would have gotten used to the ball if they made it out of plastic,” he said. “Making adjustments is part of the realm of being a professional athlete. Things change, the weather changes, travel presents some problems. But we’re paid to adjust.”

Note — Center Etan Thomas, who sprained his left ankle against the Rockets, will not play tonight against the Nuggets or on Friday against the Miami Heat. Backup center Brendan Haywood (bruised thigh) participated in light drills yesterday, and his status for tonight’s game against the Nuggets still is uncertain.

“It will be a game-time decision,” Jordan said.

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