The Madness Begins With the Ball

I would have found it reassuringly quaint, and downright old school, that, as Mark Viera reported in the New York Times last week, in the NCAA each home team gets to choose which brand of basketball to play with. That is, if I didn’t know it was just a matter of the various cozy marketing deals being struck with each team by manufacturers. Aside from dictating the shape – “the ball shall be spherical” – and the general texture – a“deeply pebbled leather or composite cover” – and the assembly – with “the traditionally shaped eight panels,” NCAA basketball is the Wild West when it comes to the balls themselves.

As the article notes, the NBA, NFL, and MLB all have “official” balls, which means every time a player takes to the court or the field he’s handling the same familiar form. And in college football, each offense selects their ball of preference. But in college basketball there are no fewer than seven brands of balls bouncing around home courts – each spherical, yeah, but each with its quirks of texture and feel. Enough to throw off a player’s free throw pretty easily.

But these guys have it easy compared to the way it used to be. Back when Naismith invented the game it was played with a soccer ball. Even after “basket balls” were introduced, they were lumpy orbs with laces that had to be untied several times a game to be pumped up. As I relay in The Ball, in 1919 Syracuse All-American Joe Schwarzer bragged about the challenges of play in those early days, “When you shot the ball, you could see it going up by leaps and bounds depending on how the air would hit the laces.”

Marketing deals or no, I love the fact that the ball can still be a somewhat unpredictable and deciding force on the court in an age of over-regulation and predictability.

Frank DeFord Kicks It Off!

Yes, another pun. Sorry. Really, full restraint from here on! But I’m just so damn honored that none other than legendary sportswriter extraordinaire and NPR commentator, Frank DeFord, has read the book, loved it, and provided my very first blurb. If you don’t know Frank, his commentaries air every Wednesday on NPR’s Morning Edition and he’s senior correspondent on RealSports with Bryant Gumbel. And he’s got what looks like a great new book coming out the same month as mine titled Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter.

The blurb reads: “Anyone who has ever thrown, caught, bounced, hit (or whiffed) a ball will mightily enjoy John Fox’s stories of where all these balls came from and why, from our earliest days, they have been such an integral part of the very fun that makes us human.”

Wow.

I’m particularly honored because Frank’s NPR commentaries, aside from being steeped in decades of sports wisdom, funny as hell, and biting when they need to be take a view of sports that borders on the anthropological. He leaves the post-game analysis to others and focuses on the big picture of how sports are changing, for better or worse. And he doesn’t suck up to anyone but just tells it like it is.

Frank’s wonderful blurb will grace the cover of The Ball and will hopefully be followed by others. Not a bad start.

 

Let’s Get The Ball Rolling

I know, I know. The puns could get out of control with books “bouncing” off shelves, sales “rolling” along, keeping my eye on “the ball”, and so on. It’s just one more measure of the importance of the ubiquitous ball that it’s penetrated our linguistic defense to this extent. And that doesn’t even begin to account for the endless sports metaphors out there. Anyway, I promise to exercise maximum restraint…though I hope you’ll understand if I give into temptation now and then.

I’m launching this blog to keep up whoever might be reading on the latest news and buzz on my new book, The Ball, including latest reviews (or at least the good ones!), media appearances, events and readings, etc. If you’re hitting this blog and don’t know what the book’s about, you can read an overview here. If you’re ready to read it, you’ll need to wait until it’s released May 14th (May 20th in the UK), but in the meantime can pre-order it here. I’ll also be using this blog to share stories that interest me in the world of sports and beyond.

Please comment here, or contact me by email if you want. And thanks for reading!