Ball of confusion confirms people just don't like change

November 01, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

During my terrific education at Cal State-Fullerton (the Harvard of The OC), I took a course in something called Persuasive Communications, which sought to examine how human beings process information and accept persuasive messages.

The foundational theory of this particular intellectual exercise was a seemingly basic truism of human nature:

Change equals pain.

Humans will not be motivated to change behavior unless the benefits of the change outweigh the discomfort of deviating from an established routine.

This is heady stuff for a sports column, particularly one that is supposed to be funny once in a while, but it popped right into my mind when I was reading the comments of NBA players about the new microfiber basketball that made its regular-season debut last night.

They seem almost unanimous in hating the new ball, which has different seams, a little less bounce and may be harder to grip when wet.

The resistance, based on the aforementioned academic principle, is predictable, since the NBA is full of young, very rich guys who were doing just fine with the old leather ball and don't really see the point in making the change as long as there is no shortage of cows.

There are a number of positives, however, that might push this tempest back into its teapot. The new ball does have a more consistent feel because it's not subject to the natural variability of leather. It also cannot be as easily manipulated by the home team, because of new technology that does not allow it to be overinflated.

Personally, I think the best thing about it is that it is PETA-friendly. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has long encouraged various sports to abandon leather because of the inherent cruelty of turning a pig into a football. I'm not a big animal-rights guy, but if you can make the same football out of rubber and save the next Arnold Ziffel (and, trust me, that was one charming pig), I'm all for it.

(Don't write. I know that footballs are not really made of pigskin, but a little poetic license never hurt anybody.)

So I applaud the NBA for thinking outside the paint and coming up with the basketball of the future, even if it offends the sensibilities of NBA purists and the cowhide industry.

If nothing else, it increases the chances of PETA activist Pamela Anderson showing up at a Wizards game, which would make my winter.

Of course, your average self-centered basketball player isn't thinking about me. He's thinking about his shooting percentage and his next signing bonus, and he probably couldn't care less that there are a lot of cows out there who would just as soon keep their skin and a lot of middle-aged guys who resemble cows who want to see Pam at Verizon Center.

I really don't see what all the commotion is about. We already have microcomputers, microwave ovens, Micronesia and Microsoft. And I can tell you from very personal experience that microfiber is a good thing. My shirts are the size of small circus tents and there is nary a wrinkle when I take them out of the dryer. By comparison, 100 percent cotton shirts require ironing, so I wear them once and then give them to The Salvation Army.

It was only a matter of time before this amazing fabric technology was applied to the replacement of other natural substances. Microfiber is used in disposable diapers (which are highly preferable to leather diapers), construction materials and medical supplies. Why not high-level sporting equipment?

The NBA experiment started in earnest last night, and it isn't hard to predict what will happen the next few months. The players who struggle with their shooting percentage will point to the new basketball as the reason for their poor seasons, while the players who adapt quickly soon will stop thinking about it.

I suspect that it will cease to be an issue by the beginning of the 2007-08 season.

The basketball has evolved quite a bit over the past century or so. The early model was a leather-wrapped bladder with laces, but the laces were abandoned in the 1930s and the seam pattern was altered in 1970. The new ball is called Cross Traxxion and at $99 actually costs more than its leather counterpart, but what else would you expect from a ball that employs space-age technology to upset Shaquille O'Neal?

My old professor hit nothing but net. Change really does equal pain.

The Peter Schmuck Show airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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