Not only were the Patriots cheating when they ripped our hearts out by beating the hometown team to win their championship… not only did the Yankees do the same with a star slugger notorious for his cheating (though no evidence exists that A-Rod was using PEDs in 2009)… but it turns out that the Lakers, too, got a perhaps unfair advantage in the 2001 Finals.
But long before “Deflategate,” the practice of putting extra air in or letting it out of a game ball — beyond the regulated amount — was used by some of the NBA’s biggest teams and stars.
Take Shaquille O’Neal, for instance.
“Sometimes, in the games during all my championship runs, if a ball was too hard, I let air out,” the former All-Star 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.”
Was he cheating? He believes not.
“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.”
A league spokesman said he was unaware of any punishments handed down at any point through the years for any players inflating or deflating a game ball, and that it’s unclear when rules regarding the mandated PSI for a game ball were put in place.
The current rules state 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.
Here’s Shaq putting up 34 in Game 4:
Yeah, the Sixers could’ve played that series using a tennis ball on offense and still would’ve lost. BUT LET ME BLAME SOMETHING OTHER THAN LARRY BROWN’S INSISTENCE THAT AARON MCKIE AND A COMBO OF ALSO-RANS WERE “GOOD ENOUGH” COMPLEMENTS TO THE GREATEST LOCAL ATHLETE OF OUR GENERATION!
And yes, I know: my grapes our sour. And I’m just completely glossing over the fact that Lenny Dykstra turned in his unreal 1993 season jacked up on more steroids than a wrestler trying to make it out of house shows. But what’s next, are we going to learn that when Patrick Kane slipped his Stanley Cup winner under Michael Leighton’s pads – five years ago today! – he was fueled by a dangerous (but favorable!) concoction of booze and lady stank? Probably. Probably we will.
H/T to reader Dennis, a most likely menace