You’re probably tired of hearing about deflated balls. The around-the-clock coverage of the New England Patriots’ scandal and the punishments that were handed down to Tom Brady and the team. But the practice of deflating balls is more common than people realize, and not just in football. Shaquille O’Neal freely admitted recently that he used to adjust the inflation in game balls during the Lakers’ early-2000s title runs to make them more comfortable for him.
But long before “Deflategate,” the practice of putting extra air in or letting it out of a game ball — beyond the regulated amount — was used by some of the NBA’s biggest teams and stars.
Take Shaquille O’Neal, for instance.
“Sometimes, in the games during all my championship runs, if a ball was too hard, I let air out,” the former All-Star center said in a recent episode of “The Big Podcast With Shaq.” “I’d have a needle. A friend of mine would have a needle and I would get the game ball. … I needed that extra grip, but I wasn’t doing that for cheating purposes. I just needed the extra grip for my hands so I could palm it, a la Michael Jordan, the way he used to palm it.
O’Neal said he’d walk up to the ball rack before a game, “Get the ball, ‘Tsssss’ let a little bit of air out, squeeze it — OK, good.”
Was he cheating? He believes not.
“Because, first of all, I’m not aware of any letter of the law that says, you can’t let air out of the ball,” O’Neal said. “I’m not aware of that. Second of all, it’s all about my [comfort level]. A lot of times, if the balls have too much air in them, they’re too bouncy. I didn’t want them to be bouncy. I needed that grip.”
The NBA and NFL handle this stuff in different ways, obviously, but if Shaq is openly talking about doing this, it must not be a big deal to NBA teams or players. He surely wasn’t the first person to ever think of it. There are more important things to get upset about than the air pressure in game balls.