Shaquille O’Neal says he deflated balls during NBA championship runs

Former Celtic Shaquille O'Neal said he deflated basketballs back in the day. —AP

Add Shaquille O’Neal’s name to list of athletes who think deflating balls is no big deal.

In Baxter Holmes’s fine story on NBA game balls for ESPN, former NBA great Shaquille O’Neal admitted that he personally tampered with the air pressure in basketballs used in NBA playoff games to get the balls to his liking.

“Sometimes, in the games during all my championship runs, if a ball was too hard, I let air out,’’ the former Celtics center said in a recent episode of “The Big Podcast With Shaq.’’ “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.

O’Neal said he’d walk up to the ball rack before a game, “Get the ball, ‘Tsssss’ let a little bit of air out, squeeze it — OK, good.’’

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While Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is under fire for allegedly ordering Patriots staff to deflate footballs before NFL games, Shaq doesn’t think what he did to basketballs should be considered cheating.

“Because, first of all, I’m not aware of any letter of the law that says, you can’t let air out of the ball,’’ O’Neal said. “I’m not aware of that. Second of all, it’s all about my [comfort level]. A lot of times, if the balls have too much air in them, they’re too bouncy. I didn’t want them to be bouncy. I needed that grip.’’

O’Neal wasn’t the first to deflate basketballs in the NBA. Legendary coach Phil Jackson said he would “carry pins and take the air out to deaden the ball’’ during his playing days with the early 1970s New York Knicks, including on their 1973 championship team.

The NBA operates a bit differently from the NFL when it comes to the balls used during a game. The current rule states that home team’s equipment managers or ball boys take three basketballs to the official’s locker room prior to a game. There, the balls are inspected for wear and tear and ensured that they comply with the NBA-approved ball pressure of between 7 ½ to 8 ½ PSI. With the approval of one player for each team, one ball is then selected to be used for the game with the other two balls reserved for backup in the event the game ball is damaged.

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Read the full story of NBA game balls on ESPN here.

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