Learning from the NBA: when to keep the leather ball

Michael Coakley holds the new official NBA basketball, left, and the old one, at right. outside the Winstanley offices in Lenox. Tue June 27 2006 (Bonnivier)

For those of us who are promoters of change it’s important for us to step back and carefully consider how those involved with the change initiative are feeling. In 2006, the NBA made the decision to change from leather to synthetic basketballs. There hadn’t been a change to the basketball in 35 years. Talk about a sensitive subject.

The league tested out the synthetic balls for approximately 3 months. Spalding, the ball manufacturer, stated “We believe the microfiber composite ball offers many superior characteristics to leather…” After the player’s union filed a grievance and many of the players complained, the NBA decided to switch back to the leather balls. At the time, David Stern reported “Although testing performed by Spalding and the NBA demonstrated that the new composite basketball was more consistent than leather, and statistically there has been an improvement in shooting, scoring and ball-related turnovers, the most important statistic is the view of our players.”

“The only thing that we love the most is the basketball. That’s your comfort. I mean, without your basketball, it doesn’t work. That was my biggest problem, was, why would you change something that means so much to us? ” —LeBron James, Cleveland

So, the NBA decided to listen to the players and not make the change.

I’ve been thinking about this example a lot lately as we take on change at school. While we’re not going to drop our work on assessment, PLCs, and teaching and learning in today’s digital world in a 1:1 environment, we can certainly decide to slow down or backtrack a bit when necessary. Whenever we make significant changes there are always unanticipated demands on time and energy. These demands can lead to frustration, anxiety, anger and grievances among colleagues. Sometimes the leader has to press on, and act as a cheerleader for change. Other times the leader has to listen to the teachers, students and other administrators and slow down or back track a bit. David Stern certainly understood this in 2006 and the league backtracking didn’t seem to  have a negative impact on the NBA.

Like David Stern, I hope that I am able to recognize when it’s time to back track on planned changes.

Photo from Jacobwolman

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