Sportress of Blogitude

Phil Jackson: Knicks teams of old deflated balls to gain competitive advantage


A story from the halcyon days from the NBA’s storied past has been dug up from the archives. What makes it so interesting is that it creates a historical context fore the Deflategate controversy that continues to swirl around the New England Patriots and unfortunately has distracted from the buildup to what should be a fantastic Super Bowl.

Current New York Knicks president Phil Jackson once relayed a tale from a time when he was playing for the team he now runs that is particularly compelling in light of Deflategate. It revolves around his admission that his Knicks teams in the 1970s — a wild and crazy time, as illustrated by this photo of a nude Jackson in the locker room circa 1973 — used to deflate basketballs before games to gain an edge.

Jackson’s comments were included in a Chicago Tribune article reprinted by the Bangor Daily News in December 1986.

Jackson’s recollection of the events about how the Knicks believed an under-inflated ball helped the height-challenged Knicks squads of the 1970s are as follows (via the New York Post):

“What we used to do was deflate the ball,” Jackson, a reserve power forward on the Knicks second and last title team, says in the story. “We were a short team with our big guys like Willis [Reed], 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.”

While Jackson’s comments regarding acts of questionably unethical acts of gamesmanship from a bygone era in a different sport may not change anyone’s opinion about Deflategate, his recollection of those events certainly puts the current ball-deflating controversy in a historical perspective. Not only that, it demonstrates that players and teams have been trying to pull off tricks to gain a competitive advantage for ages.