(he’s also got an original pressing of the Nervebreakers’ “My Girlfriend Is A Rock” in the attic somewhere)

For the NBA, January 1 means out with the new ball and and a return to the sort that requires the death of cuddly critters. As such, the unfavorable comparisons to previous marketing innovations were inevitable, this one courtesy of the Washington Post’s Michael Lee.

When asked about the change, Orlando Magic swingman Grant Hill became nostalgic. Not for the ball he played with for his first 12 years in the league; but for a carbonated beverage that made an infamous change more than 20 years ago. “I’m going to go and steal some [synthetic balls] from our equipment manager and I’m going to save them like my father (abvoe) did when they came out with the New Coke,” Hill said with a laugh.

Shortly after the announcement, the Wizards were preparing to scrimmage during practice when Gilbert Arenas sneaked into his bag and pulled out a leather ball he had been working out with at his home. Arenas said there was an initial excitement — until his teammates actually started shooting with it.

“We really don’t want the change. We really don’t want to go back,” said Arenas, an ardent critic of the synthetic ball during the preseason who has experienced a change of heart in recent weeks. “We played with this [synthetic] ball, we got accustomed to it. They gave us the old balls and we were like, ‘What the hell is this? Why did we even play with this?’ It’s funny because everyone is looking at the old ball, like, ‘Nobody wants to play with this anymore. This is terrible.’ It’s slippery. It’s heavy.”

Although several players hailed the return, there is no guarantee that it will remain beyond this season or that another synthetic ball won’t return. “What we want to do is work with Spalding, work with the players, have a dialogue and say, ‘Here are our options,’ ” said Bourne, the NBA spokesman. “It could be a leather ball. It could be a composite ball. Either way, we are committed to making sure there is player involvement. We are using the leather ball moving forward and there is no other timetable that would suggest that there would be anything other than that in the near future.”

Arenas said he thinks it’s just a matter of time before the league drops leather again. “They gave us this ball to shut us up for a minute,” he said.

In Portland tonight, the Celtics are nursing a 74-70 lead over the Blazers with 7:21 to play. While Sebastian Telfair has been a non-factor in his first game back in Rip City, Al Jefferson is working on a double-double. Not that the game itself hasn’t been entertaining enough, but hearing Tommy Heinsohn provide color commentary from what sounds like a pay telephone is a surreal experience. Even compared to Bryant Gumbel belching.