Shaq, Phil Jackson: Deflating Balls Was Common in NBA Long Before NFL

NBA players, much like their NFL counterparts, have certain preferences when it comes to air pressure in the balls they use. Frontcourt players want less air for more grip, while guards prefer more air for a better bounce.

Let Shaquille O’Neal explain.

“Sometimes, in the games during all my championship runs, if a ball was too hard, I let air out,” the NBA legend recently said on his podcast, via ESPN.com. “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.”

These types of stories are being shared far more often because of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s alleged involvement in the NFL’s Deflategate controversy. O’Neal is one of many players across the sports landscape who have either defended Brady or said what happened isn’t a huge issue.

O’Neal was the driving force behind the Los Angeles Lakers winning three consecutive NBA Finals from 2000 through 2002. He won NBA Finals MVP in all three of those series. He also claimed a fourth title with the Miami Heat in 2005-06, but he was the No. 2 option on that team behind Dwyane Wade.

Phil Jackson — O’Neal’s coach with those Lakers — admitted to the Chicago Tribune in 1986 that the early 1970s New York Knicks teams he played on also deflated balls.

“What we used to do was deflate the ball,” Jackson told the Tribune, via ESPN.com. “We were a short team with our big guys like Willis (Reed), our center, only about 6-8 and Jerry Lucas also 6-8, (Dave) DeBusschere, 6-6. So what we had to rely on was boxing out and hoping the rebound didn’t go long.

“To help ensure that, we’d try to take some air out of the ball. You see, on the ball it says something like ‘inflate to 7 to 9 pounds.’ We’d all carry pins and take the air out to deaden the ball.

“It also helped our offense because we were a team that liked to pass the ball without dribbling it, so it didn’t matter how much air was in the ball. It also kept other teams from running on us because when they’d dribble the ball, it wouldn’t come up so fast.”

h/t to ProFootballTalk.

Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images

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