CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Before every NBA game, the officials meet with a player from each team. One of the things they do is pick the game ball.

The meeting probably never got more attention than it did Monday night before Minnesota faced Charlotte, marking the return of the leather ball – an unprecedented midseason equipment change to appease players and coaches.

The ball chosen? A newer-looking ball, more colorful than some of the more worn balls used in pregame warmups.

And with that the microfiber era – the NBA’s version of New Coke – ended.

“This is what everybody wanted,” Timberwolves guard Mike James said. “People felt more comfortable with the leather ball.”

The Bobcats won the opening tip and rookie Adam Morrison hit the first shot of the game, a runner in the lane that officially ended an embarrassing period for the league.

But it was Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett, one of the loudest critics of the ball, who had the biggest night. Garnett was 12-of-18 from the field, scored 32 points and had 14 rebounds in Minnesota’s 102-96 victory.

“Hallelujah for the new ball,” Garnett said.

The NBA decided to abandon the ball it used for the past 35 years in favor of a microfiber composite ball at the start of the season.

The grumbling started immediately. Players said it had too much grip when dry and then would get too slippery when it got soaked in sweat. Others complained of getting cuts on their fingertips. Coaches said the ball would die around the rim and others complained that the ball didn’t always bounce true.

“There are a lot of balls that don’t come up,” Bobcats coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. “When you are just dribbling along, sometimes the ball doesn’t come up.”

The players union went as far as to file an unfair labor practice charge against the league, prompting commissioner David Stern to decide to switch back to the old ball for games starting on Jan. 1.

“I like it a lot better. I think it sits on the rim a lot better. It bounces off the glass a lot better,” said Morrison, who scored 18 points on 8-of-17 shooting. “It’s just a real basketball. It’s not a toy store ball with no seams. It’s a real basketball.”

But that move also brought complaints, as players will have to adjust to new ball in midseason.

“I’d rather just finish it out this year and go back to the old ball next year, especially since they are sending us brand new, old (leather) balls,” Bobcats forward Sean May said despite showing deep cuts on his fingertips. “They still have to be broken in.”

Bickerstaff chuckled at those comments.

“You can’t satisfy players, right? That’s what they wanted, and the commissioner acquiesced,” he said.

The only other game on New Year’s Day was a late game in Portland, with Boston beating the Trail Blazers 89-81. The Celtics were the only team to play the night before, meaning they had no adjustment period from the synthetic ball.

“It’s a different feel for sure,” Boston’s Wally Szczerbiak said. “I knew there was going to be an adjustment period. I haven’t missed two free throws in a row all year.”

Stern is not giving up on using a synthetic ball, saying last month that the NBA hopes to work with Spalding to find a ball that players like.

But until then the animal rights people may not be happy with the leather balls, but the NBA’s stars are happy.

“We’re protecting the humans, not the animals,” Bickerstaff said.

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