Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


March 28, 2014

The secrets of March Madness

— — It’s been described as “Squeak, squeak, yay!” in our home. That was the constant soundtrack last weekend. And may be again this weekend. March Madness is in full throttle. My husband grew up on the neighborhood and school courts of his rough and tumble Boston childhood. (At least, that’s the narrative he loves to share.) He worked at summer camps, including one run by that one team in Boston...they wear green...something to do with the Irish, I think ... it’ll come to me.

Basketball was a youthful passion that kept him busy and helped motivate him into college, where he ultimately chose textbooks over two pointers. He realized pretty early on he wasn’t going to go pro. He’s a pretty self-aware guy who stands not quite six-feet tall with hands small enough that he might’ve made a good surgeon but not a good ballplayer.

Still, he loves the drama of The Dance. When the winds of March Madness blow in, he is swept up by the display of hungry college talent and the tales of Cinderella teams.

I caught the last minute of the Duke and Mercer game and was immediately swept up, as well. I texted two friends who are Duke alum, teasing them about the loss while personally entertained by the dramatic culmination on the court. They didn’t find either humor or intrigue in the unexpected outcome of the game.  “Ridiculous,” said one. “Painful,” said the other.

There was no joy in Dukeville .. .and no sense of humor about it, either.

I’m not much of an athlete. The last time I played a team sport was 8th grade volleyball and I begged to drop out. My mom, another non-athlete, compassionately allowed it. 

But I can be a pretty enthusiastic spectator when I’m in the mood. My husband has learned if he gives me the team backstory or a personal tale of a player or two, I might join him on the couch in front of the 60 inch screen. Once roped in, I revert back to my high school cheerleading days with astonishing speed.

Apparently, I can even be intrigued by the back story on the basketball itself. I heard or read a report about the official NBA basketball a few months ago. I cannot trace the source but it captured my attention at the time and I made note of two interesting facts about the official game balls made by Spalding.

Apparently, I learned, NBA basketballs have to be broken in before they ever appear in a game. As I understood it, it’s required that a ball be bounced 50 times before being sent to an NBA team and then it is used for two months in practice before bouncing its way onto the court for an actual game.

When I contacted Spalding to ask them about the specifics and truth about these interesting alleged stats — asking to confirm the details and inquiring what machine is used to employ the break-in bouncing — I was politely told, “Numbers of bounces, machinery and what it is called, is rather specific information that we would not confirm.” Corporate secrets, I suppose.

But the Spalding employee was willing to answer my original questions about why the ball has to be broken in: “The NBA Official Game Ball is genuine leather. It starts out stiff and does not have a true rebound and performance until the leather is broken in. The things you mentioned in reference to bouncing and usage before game play is to break in the ball so that it performs properly by the time it reaches a regulation game.”

Without revealing any super special corporate secrets, my Spalding source also explained “untrue bounce/rebound.”  To simplify “corporate-ese,” untrue bounce/rebound is when the ball performs in a way that an “efficient basketball” wouldn’t. That occurs when a ball is stiff and unresponsive when dribbled or when the ball rebounds off of a backboard. The ball is also very hard until the leather is “broken in which one can achieve simply by using the ball. “We don’t have a set amount of bounces or months that it takes for one to get the ball to their preferred feel,” the source added.

Uh huh. Sure you don’t. I know I heard that somewhere.

What caught my imagination when I first heard those alleged stats about a ball having to be “broken in” before it was good enough for a game was that sometimes we are like basketballs. We develop true bounce, the ability to rebound, the more use we get. We, too, are more efficient and perform better when we are “broken in.” Rebounding equals resilience.

By the way, according to the official Spalding website, the basketball was developed by a retired baseball player, A.G. Spalding. When Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball in 1891, players were stuck using a soccer ball. Just a little backstory to add to the mania of March.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist living in North Carolina. Contact her at

Text Only

What is your favorite fast food? After voting, go to to comment.

Sub sandwiches
     View Results