Basketballs can be made for specific types of courts and are usually classified into indoor and outdoor basketballs with some being designated for both types of courts. They’re manufactured in the same way but the exterior materials used are usually different. Each type of exterior material is used for specific purposes and has their own benefits and drawbacks. In general, the best material for an indoor basketball is something that will offer a consistent bounce, withstand frequent use, and be easy to grip during a game.
Material Options for Indoor Basketballs
Unlike outdoor basketballs, indoor basketballs don’t need to be extremely hard and durable since they will only be used on indoor courts instead of rough outdoor courts. They also won’t be exposed to the elements as much as outdoor balls so they won’t wear out easily as long as they’re used solely on indoor courts.
Every basketball follows a standard structural design but different dimensions are used depending on the division of play or the age of the players for which the ball is being designed. Similarly, the exterior design including the number of panels used, the colors used, and the way the panels are situated can be different depending on the manufacturer. The most popular choices for the exterior materials of a basketball are leather, synthetic leather, and rubber.
This is the preferred material for the basketballs used in the professional leagues like the NBA and the WNBA as well as in the Olympics and the NCAA. This is because of the quality of the material as well as its superior feel. The leather used for basketballs is full-grain vegetable tanned cowhide featuring a rounded pebble surface. Sometimes a lower quality split leather material is used instead of the more expensive full-grain leather but this doesn’t feel quite the same.
Leather is softer than the other exterior materials used for basketballs. This means that it can scuff or tear easier if improperly used or mistreated. For example, if you own a leather basketball and play with it on an outdoor court, it will quickly fall apart as the rough court will scuff the leather easily which will lead to tears that will ruin the ball. This is why these balls should only be used on indoor courts.
This is a man-made leather composite material that is usually made from polyurethane. The material is made in a way that duplicates the way leather fibers look and feel so the basketballs can mimic the more expensive genuine leather balls. Synthetic leather is a more durable material that can withstand both indoor and outdoor play without deteriorating quickly. It is also a little harder than real leather so its bounce is a little stronger on indoor courts.
Since it is meant to be used outdoors as well, these basketballs won’t absorb as much water as the genuine leather balls can. Similarly, they won’t scuff and tear as easily as leather basketballs making them a better value overall.
These types of basketballs are the best choice if you plan on playing basketball on both indoor and outdoor courts. By choosing this type of material you can save yourself some money by not needing to purchase one ball for an indoor court and another ball for an outdoor setting.
While mainly thought of for outdoor basketballs, rubber can be used for indoor balls too. This is the most durable exterior material making it more suitable for outdoor courts like asphalt and concrete. Since these balls are harder by nature of the material, they have a stronger bounce when used indoors and can be a little harder to handle than the other options. It is, however, the most affordable making it a great option for beginners who aren’t ready to pay the hefty asking prices for leather balls.
Different Basketball Sizes for Different Groups
As mentioned earlier, there are different designs and dimensions for basketballs that depend on how they’ll be used. There are three main sizes manufactured for standard play: a youth size, a women’s size, and the standard regulation size. There are also smaller sizes that are used for specific age groups.
- Size 7 basketball: the standard size used by most professional leagues and the recommended size for boys over the age of 15. It measures 29.5 inches in circumference and weighs around 22 ounces.
- Size 6 basketball: the official standard size of the WNBA and recommended for boys between the ages of 12 and 14, this basketball measures anywhere from 28.5 inches to 29 inches in circumference and weighs around 20 ounces.
- Size 5: recommended for players under the age of 12 (usually between the ages of 9 and 11), these basketballs measure around 27.25 inches in circumference and weighs around 17 ounces.
- Size 4: while not a popular option, this size is ideal for players ranging from 5 to 8 years old. It measures 25.5 inches in circumference and weighs about 14 ounces.
- Size 3: known as the “mini basketball” this is best for children between 4 and 8 years old. It measures 22 inches in circumference and weighs about 10 ounces.
- Size 1: sometimes called the “micro-mini basketball” this is recommended for young children between the ages of 2 and 4. It measures 16 inches in circumference and weighs around 8 ounces.
The Manufacturing Process
The exteriors of basketballs are created as the third step in the manufacturing process (after the bladder and carcass of the ball are made). The given material is unrolled on a long table from one continuous roll before a silk screen moves along the length of the material with metal markers acting as guides to measure out the proper length of material for each individual ball. The outlines for the panels of the exterior are imprinted by hand using the silkscreen. From there, a punch press cuts out the outlines leaving six individual panels.
Those panels are collected and carried to a vulcanizer where channels will be created between the panels. Here, embossed information on the exterior will also be added. The panels are then assembled by hand in the vulcanizer before they’re applied to the bladder and carcass of the ball. After the ball comes out as smooth as possible, decals or similar design elements are added by hand with the help of heat presses. Any flaws can be fixed after going through an initial inspection.
Out of the three exterior materials used to make basketballs, the subtle winner is the synthetic leather material. This is simply because it’s durable enough for frequent use and can also withstand the abuse from an outdoor court better than genuine leather. That being said, some players prefer the way a genuine leather basketball feels during a game making it difficult to choose which one is the better option. Overall, the material of your indoor basketball is mainly subjective and should fit your personal needs and preferences.