No sooner did the National Basketball Association (NBA) switch from its traditional leather basketballs to synthetic ones than did the animal rights activists at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) claim “victory” over the switch. One sportswriter, however, isn’t buying it.

Washington Times columnist Tom Knott lambasted PETA this morning, taking the extremist group to task for counting the ball-switch on its scoreboard. Knott writes:

On its Web site, PETA says it contacted the NBA last January and supplied the league office with all the information it possibly could need regarding the leather/synthetic ball dilemma.

Five months later, NBA made the switch, and PETA had what it claimed was a significant victory.

The NBA denies PETA’s role in the switch, and [NBA Commissioner David] Stern’s recent second thought on the matter is a fairly persuasive indication of that.

It seems like the guys who actually have to use the basketballs aren’t very happy about the switch. Among them is NBA veteran Shaquille O’Neal: “I think the new ball is terrible … It’s the worst decision some expert, whoever did it, made. … The NBA’s been around how long? A hundred years? Fifty years? So to change it now, whoever that person is needs his college degree revoked. It’s a terrible decision.” Nor is two-time MVP Steve Nash pleased: “After playing with a proper leather ball for 10 years, to move to synthetic is tough.” Nor Chicago’s Ben Gordon: “As a kid, you dream of being in the NBA and shooting an official NBA ball. Then you come here and get this …

But not all is lost. As Knott wrote in the Times, “Stern has noted the outcry of the players and says he is open to returning to the cow-made leather basketball, regardless of PETA’s appeal to save the skin of the cow.

So what caused the switch in the first place? Our guess is some slick salesmanship from ball-maker Spalding. But let’s not rule out Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, a prominent animal-rights advocate who helps bankroll PETA and its affiliate, the deceptively named Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. After all, this is the same guy who has his team’s cheerleaders wear animal-rights shirts during their dance routines.