Magazine article Science News

Dribble Quibble: Experiments Find That New Basketball Gets Slick

Magazine article Science News

Dribble Quibble: Experiments Find That New Basketball Gets Slick

Article excerpt

A dispute in professional basketball about a new ball has bounced its way into a physics lab. A study launched last month at the University of Texas at Arlington compares a controversial plastic ball introduced in preseason games this summer by the National Basketball Association (NBA) with the previous standard--a leather-covered ball. The official basketball season, the first in which the new ball will be used, began this week.

So far, the Texas experiments indicate that the new ball bounces less elastically, veers more when it bounces, and becomes more slippery when damp than does the official leather ball of the past 35 years.

Many NBA players have griped about the new ball since teams began using it.

"The most significant finding is the slickness of the ball," says University of Texas physicist James L. Horwitz. He, physicist Kaushik De, and their colleagues gauged friction for both new and old balls by sliding each along sheets of silicon. That material's coefficient of friction is approximately that of the human palm, the scientists say.

The plastic balls, when dry, resisted sliding much more strongly than their leather counterparts did. Yet a single drop of a commercial eyewash, chosen to simulate sweat, slashed the plastic ball's coefficient of friction by 55 percent, the scientists claim. In contrast, leather balls gradually increased their friction coefficients when wetted--to a maximum of about 130 percent of the figure for a dry leather ball.

"When the balls are dry, the synthetic ball is easier to grip, and when they're wet, the leather one is much easier to grip" Horwitz says. …

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