When you think about basketball, you probably think of the round, orange, leather ball that is used in the standard NBA game. This typical basketball is a spherical ball that is around 30 inches in circumference depending on the league in question (it’s slightly smaller for high school and college games). It’s the only essential piece of equipment you need to play the game besides a functional court with hoops. While it hasn’t undergone many changes over the years, the basketball has seen some updates since the game was invented back in 1891.
History of the Basketball
James Naismith is credited with inventing the game of basketball in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891 to be an alternative to football and to help condition athletes in winter. In America, it grew in popularity rapidly throughout the 20th century with the National Basketball Association (NBA) coming about in 1946. Since then, the sport has gained more favor around the world with more international players making their mark in the professional league.
When the game first started the basketball resembled a soccer ball. At Naismith’s behest, AG Spalding, founder of the sports equipment company Spalding, made the first basketball for official use toward the end of the 19th century.
This original design was a leather ball made of panels that were stitched together over a rubber bladder that was inflated with air before being covered in a cloth lining to create a uniform shape and for additional support and shock absorption. It didn’t undergo many changes since its conception other than the exterior design which can vary. Notably, from 1967 to 1976, basketballs were patterned with red, white, and blue panels before taking on the orange pebbled exterior that you’re familiar with today. Other than that, the ball remained fairly unchanged until the late 1990s when the leather exterior was changed to synthetic material for its improved durability and superior performance.
Since the late 19th century, Spalding has continued to produce basketballs and became the NBA’s official basketball producer in 1983. Additionally, Spalding also makes the basketballs for the WNBA and the NBA Development League as well as basketballs for commercial sales. The company took an international leap in 2010 as the supplier for the NBL Australia league and again in 2012 by becoming the official basketball provider for the Euroleague and the Eurocup competitions.
Before Spalding took over for the Euroleague and the Eurocup, the Japanese sporting goods company Molten provided the basketballs for both. They continue to hold other contracts including those for the International Basketball Federation including their championships and qualifying tournaments. They also provide the basketball for FIBA Asia events, the VTB United League, the British Basketball League, and the following domestic leagues:
- France’s women’s league
- Poland’s women’s league
Wilson Sporting Goods also manufactures basketballs and supplies the balls for the NCAA postseason tournaments. They also equip a lot of high school leagues and also make basketballs for the consumer market.
Rawlings, another manufacturing company, began making their own basketballs in 1902 but uses a 10-panel exterior instead of the original 12-panel design or the modern 8-panel ball. Their 10-panel basketball is used as the official ball of the well-known US three-on-three basketball tournament known as the “Gus Macker” as well as for the Amateur Athletic Union.
Other sporting goods companies that make basketballs for different leagues are Adidas, Avaro, Baden (the official supplier of the famed Harlem Globetrotters), Dunlop, DHS, Kipsta, Mikasa, Miltre, Nike, Nivia, and Sterling Athletics.
General Characteristics and Manufacturing Process
All basketballs start with a rubber bladder. This makes up the interior of the basketball and is filled with air. After it’s inflated, the bladder is surrounded by spooled fibers to create a uniformed shape and for shock absorption. The interior of the basketball is then covered in a particular material depending on its intended use. The surface of the basketball is usually divided into panels by recesses known as ribs. These are depressions in the ball’s exterior and can be in different patterns. In the standard orange basketballs, these ribs are black but they can be other colors depending on the design of the ball in question.
The exterior material was originally (and still is) made of leather but, nowadays, can also be rubber or some kind of synthetic composite material. This change came about because basketballs needed to be more durable. The traditional leather exterior, while quite functional for indoor use, proved to be too delicate for outdoor use. These basketballs deteriorated quickly due to outdoor moisture and the abrasiveness of asphalt forcing manufacturers to come up with other ideas. This led to the creation of outdoor basketballs as well as all-surface basketballs that can be used for indoor and outdoor games. Rubber or composite basketballs are used to make all-surface balls and outdoor basketballs.
When compared to one another, indoor basketballs made from leather are more expensive than all-surface balls since the materials cost more to produce them. New leather basketballs also have to be broken in before being used properly. This is because a new ball isn’t as easy to grip as balls that have been used already. If you find yourself shopping for a basketball, take the exterior of the ball into account along with your intended uses for the ball. For example, if you know the ball is going to be used outdoors more than it will be used indoors, pick a rubber or composite ball that will withstand the elements better.
While the game of basketball is fairly young when compared to other sports, there is a rich history of both the sport as well as the basketball. Since its conception, the basketball has seen some minor changes and upgrades to improve its quality and function but, overall, it has kept its standard look and manufacturing process. Since Spalding began making them, other sporting goods companies have taken it upon themselves to create their own version of the basketball while still keeping the traditional design developed by Spalding and Naismith back in the late 19th century.