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The physics of basketballs
Professors Kaushik De and Jim Horwitz tested basketballs for Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban

Physics Department Chair Jim Horwitz jumped at the chance to study the NBA's synthetic basketball last fall.

Professors De and Horwitz
Professors Kaushik De, left, and Jim Horwitz tested basketballs for Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

Representatives of the Dallas Mavericks asked Dr. Horwitz to compare the new ball to the leather one used for years by the National Basketball Association.

He set up a project team of faculty, students and staff led by physics Professor Kaushik De that began doing comparative tests in the Chemistry and Physics Building, Science Hall and the Activities Building. The group sent a report to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in October.

Among the findings: The synthetic ball did not bounce as high, did not bounce straight every time and became slippery when wet.

"During our bounce tests, we observed that the synthetic ball bounced more erratically compared to the leather ball," Dr. De said.

The new ball bounced an average of four inches lower than the leather ball when dropped to the floor, and any amount of perspiration made it harder to grip.

The study received extensive media attention. ESPN, The Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated, The Dallas Morning News and Star-Telegram all trumpeted the research.

"Iím not sure exactly why they chose us to perform the tests," Horwitz said, "but we enjoyed doing it."

Cuban praised the study.

"A big thank you to UTA and all the hard work they did," he said. "They are a first-class program and did a wonderfully thorough job."

The NBA ditched the experiment in January, returning to the leather ball preferred by players.

— Jim Patterson

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