Monday, October 09, 2006

Madsen Leading the Charge Against Toy Store Balls

As you may already know from his retired jersey above and some cursory mentions of his greatness, TANBR is in the Mark Ellsworth Madsen business. Madsen, hereupon known as Mad Dog, has the unselfish attitude, the dedication, the courage, and, yes, yes, the dance moves of which legends are made.

For me, this matchup is better than Chamberlain and Russell.

My bond with Mad Dog was formed during the 2002 playoffs, when his Lakers bested the Jazz in round one. After ridiculing The Mailman grew tedious, my attention turned to the vision of grace on the bench in his yellow warm-ups. After an acrobatic Kobe play, Mad Dog waved his towel at his teammate and screamed, "That's you Ko-be! That's you, baby! That's you!" That was enough for me to follow every move in his storied career. I read the Mad Dog Blog. I trade for him in video games. I E-Mailed questions to him for the mailbag. I generally stay abreast of all M.D. news, and it seems as if a new chapter is being written today. Because he's fearless and articulate, The Dog serves as the Timberwolves' representative for the NBA Players' Union, and he has taken the league to task on its new basketballs.

(Okay, look, I also like him because there's no reason he should be able to stay in the NBA, yet he somehow does year after year. He's slow and short for his position; he's a terrabull free throw shooter; he turns the ball over mercilessly; he has a slow release on a mediocre jumper. The only reason he had draft status at all is that he beat up on younger players at Stanford, since he went on a two-year Mormon missionary trip in between high school and college. All that is stacked against him, but, as old dude coaches say, "Ain't no stats for hustle.")

Madsen's per game averages at Stanford: 10.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 4.4 raise-the-roofs

Anyway, beginning this season, the league is implementing a new synthetic ball, as opposed to the leather one whose design stood for thirty-five years. There are many rumors surrounding David Stern and company's reasons for changing the balls, ranging from simple financial savings to pressure from PETA. The real reason is probably that a durable synthetic ball can be used outdoors, so the NBA will sell more to John Q. than the official leather one that used to go for about seventy bucks.

The enemy

Spalding's new design has many detractors around the league:

  • Steve Nash: "I certainly won't have to lick my fingers. The ball sticks to your hand. It's a big transition. It's extremely sticky."
  • Shaq Fu: "It feels like one of those cheap balls that you buy at the toy store, indoor-outdoor balls."
  • Riles: "I think it's horrible."
  • C-Webb: "We're going to have to do it like baseball, change, like, every five plays. Once it gets wet, it's terrible; it's tough, put it that way"
  • Sonics coach Bob Hill: "The players don't like it...they don't like it when it gets wet, they think it gets slippery."
  • Gordon Giricek: "I have to figure out how to shoot it. It's sticking to my fingers a split-second too long, and that makes it a bad shot. I don't know where to release the ball."
  • Z Ilgauskaus: "It would've been nice of whoever made that decision that they would've included the players because we are the ones working with that ball."
  • Chris Bosh: "It doesn't bounce as high, so a bounce pass on the fast break could be a bit different. It bounces off the rim a little bit more, it's a little bit more sticky..."
  • The Big Ticket: "[my impressions of the ball] are all negative. So I have none."
All those players have spoken out against the new design, but no one has proactively sought a change...until now. Straight from the Dog's mouth:

"A key thing here is feedback. I'm going to call the union and open the dialogue. To me, the process should be, hey, Shaquille O'Neal has raised some concerns. Shaq is like the captain of the whole league. I'm hoping the league will take his concerns very seriously. This affects the 'product,' though I've never liked that word. This affects guys' performances. This is our livelihood. This is like giving an accountant software that isn't great, where he'd say, hey, the old software allowed us to do special things. I am going to do everything in my power to get the ball changed back to the old one."

You may remember his affinity for Shaq, which arose when Diesel put a down payment on a Yukon for the newly drafted Dog and bought him a bunch of clothes to help him fit in in L.A. (Seriously, try to catch me on something I don't know about the dude.)

Anyway, this whole issue distills what makes Mark Madsen so loveable. While everyone else complains about how the ball feels, you and I both know that Mad Dog will take this seriously and actually contact an official about it, maybe even David Stern. The way he talks about Big Aristotle, you know he's just as much a fan as a player. He cares. There's a reason why the players voted him their union rep, and there's a reason he's able to stay in the league. Mark Madsen seems like a genuinely nice guy.

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