NEW YORK (AP) – The NBA is convinced it is playing with a better basketball this season – no matter what Shaquille O’Neal thinks.

The league is debuting a new ball made of microfiber composite to replace the old leather balls, and O’Neal isn’t impressed. The Miami Heat star blasted the ball Monday, criticizing not only the product but whoever was involved in the decision to use it.

One of those people, executive vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson, defended the ball Tuesday – while pointing out that Shaq has already used it.

“Sure you hear some comments that aren’t as positive as the overwhelming majority of people that we tested the ball with,” Jackson said in a phone interview. “That’s going to happen. Everyone that handles the ball loves the grip and the feel of the ball.”

Not O’Neal, who said the ball, “Feels like one of those cheap balls that you buy at the toy store, indoor-outdoor balls. I look for shooting percentages to be way down and turnovers to be way up, because when the ball gets wet you can’t really control it.”

Dwyane Wade had a similar complaint, but Jackson said this ball will have an improved grip once it gets wet.

“Some players have commented that they felt that the ball when it was wet, felt a little slick,” Jackson said. “But if you moisturize a leather ball, it also feels very slick. But this new ball has a better grip when it’s wet than a leather ball.”

Even though the NBA is changing its ball for the first time in more than 35 years, its players have already had plenty of exposure to it. Jackson said the ball was sent to all teams after the All-Star break, and every player had one sent to him over the summer.

And most players were probably exposed to it even before that – and O’Neal definitely was. The ball was used in the last two All-Star games, which O’Neal played in, and was tested in summer league and D-League play.

“It’s a better ball,” Jackson said. “But as a product matter, composite balls are used in every league throughout the world. And they’ve been used in every level of play over the last 10 years domestically in the NCAA and also in high school.”

Jackson said O’Neal would not be fined for his outburst, in which he said that the person who decided to change the ball, “needs his college degree revoked.”

But he did say that the change would not have been made if there were many similar complaints when the ball was tested.

“We would have pulled the ball,” Jackson said.

AP-ES-10-03-06 1950EDT

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