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I missed it in Marc Stein's Friday blog update, but Stein mentioned that part of the reason that the NBA changed the basketball they use might be complaints from PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA is claiming responsibility, anyway. From their official website:

In January 2006, PETA contacted the National Basketball Association (NBA) and requested that it switch from leather basketballs to cruelty-free synthetic balls ... Along with the request, PETA sent information on how the leather industry tortures and kills millions of cows, including the fact that it takes the skin of an entire cow to make just four basketballs ... In June 2006, the NBA announced that it would switch to synthetic basketballs beginning with its 2006/2007 season.

My only question is ... if I'm going to be eating the rest of the cow anyway (and I damn sure will be), why not use the skin to put together a few basketball? Do we went to use the whole animal, like the nice Native Americans in "Dances With Wolves," or do we want to be like the bad white men who kill the buffalo for their tongues? Think about that, Pam Anderson.

The NBA denies that PETA had anything to do with the switch, saying that it's "a better ball with a better grip and feel and more consistency from ball-to-ball." Ignoring the words "ball-to-ball" for a second, pretty much everyone in the league agrees that the new basketball does not have a better grip, feel, or anything else. Everyone from Shaq to Mark Madsen hates it.

I think the NBA caved in to PETA. For a dress code that the players hate, the league stands up like they're Corleones. PETA applies a little pressure, though, and they fold like little girls.

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About PETA - Victories [PETA]
PETA likes "cruelty-free" ball [ESPN Insider]