Back in early January, shortly after the #DeflateGate scandal first rocked the Patriots' organization, Shaquille O'Neal tried to prove that a deflated basketball wouldn't help an NBA player. He did it by taking free throws with a deflated ball on TNT's Inside the NBA one night and missing them.
As it turns out, though, Shaq actually used to be a proponent of letting some air out of game balls in order to gain a competitive advantage. ESPN.com just published a pretty interesting story about the game balls that are used in the NBA. And in the middle of it, they quoted a portion of Shaq talking about deflating balls before games during the debut episode of his new podcast, "The Big Podcast With Shaq." Specifically, he said he used to do it so that he could get a better grip on the ball and palm it.
"Sometimes, in the games during all my championship runs, if a ball was too hard, I let air out," he said. "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."
Shaq also emphasized that he didn't knowingly break any rules by deflating basketballs.
"I'm not aware of any letter of the law that says you can't let air out of the ball," he 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."
We can't tell if this is a big deal or not. We imagine that other NBA players did the same thing, just like we're sure Tom Brady isn't the first or only NFL quarterback to ever deflate footballs prior to games. But the fact that Shaq had a "friend" who brought a needle to games to deflate balls seems…weird. Doesn't it?
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