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DeflateGate, NBA style: Phil Jackson admits to past trickery with Knicks


The reduction of air inside of footballs has been at the center of most sports media since the New England Patriots battered the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game, and were subsequently accused of a years-long pattern of deflation trickery that led to insanely low fumble rates.

Hardly a physicist or investigator myself, I can’t offer any clarity on that one — that job is left, apparently, in Bill Nye’s hands. All I can give on this subject is the knowledge that such behavior is not unique to the sport of football.

Yesterday, Twitter user Todd Radom unearthed this bit of NBA trivia about the legendary Phil Jackson, from a 1986 Chicago Tribune article by Bulls scribe Sam Smith:

“In the history of the National Basketball Association, there were teams that would take your breath away, leaving those watching gasping for air at the sight of their extraordinary acrobatic feats. And there were other teams that were so methodically powerful that they would quickly take the air out of opponents.

"And then there were the New York Knicks of the early 1970s, a team that had Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, Jerry Lucas, Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier and Dick Barnett and that represented for many the apotheosis of the game.

"They simply took the air out of the ball.

"The team that basketball purists often called the best ever because they embodied many of the most respected elements of the game, such as sacrifice and intelligence, which they merged with efficient passing, aggressive defense and timely shooting, had this little gimmick that often gained them just enough of an edge to win.

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"But it wasn`t cheating, exactly. It was more like creative invention that might come from the likes of some McHale, McAdoo or Machiavelli.

"'What we used to do was deflate the ball,’ recalls Phil Jackson, the cerebral reserve forward who was every bit as metaphysical as he was physical. 'We were a short team with our big guys like Willis, our center, only about 6-8 and Jerry Lucas also 6-8, DeBusschere, 6-6.

"'So what we had to rely on was boxing out and hoping the rebound didn't go long.

"'To help ensure that, we'd try to take some air out of the ball. You see, on the ball it says something like 'inflate to 7 to 9 pounds. We'd all carry pins and take the air out to deaden the ball.

"'It also helped our offense because we were a team that liked to pass the ball without dribbling it, so it didn't matter how much air was in the ball. It also kept other teams from running on us because when they`d dribble the ball, it wouldn't come up so fast.’”

Slower team? No problem: just make sure you’re playing with a slower ball.

— John Wilmes