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Can a Fan Keep an NBA Ball?

No. A fan cannot keep an NBA ball due to a strict league policy that states that only one ball should be used for the entirety of a game. The only exception to the rule is when a ball is if the ball were to be contaminated by any bodily fluid apart from sweat or a beverage like beer rendering it incapable of use. Any attempt by a fan to keep an NBA ball may also amount to contravening the NBA Fan Code of Conduct and result in sanctions against a fan including but not limited to ejection and/or banning from an arena.

A Brief History of NBA Balls

To truly appreciate why the NBA is so strict with its balls, one needs to examine their history, evolution, and significance through the ages. When the game of basketball was invented by Dr. James Naismith in 1891, the sport did not have its own official ball. Rather, a soccer ball was used.

Seeking to further distinguish the sport and give it its own identity, Naismith reached out to A.G. Spalding and Bros. – a company that was renowned for producing American football balls and baseball gloves – to conceptualize and create the sport’s first ball. The effort bore fruits and resulted in the invention of a round ball with laces in the middle that got its inspiration from its pigskin football counterpart in 1894.

The original design remained in use for a little over four decades until the formation of the now-defunct National Basketball League in 1937. By then, the sport had grown in popularity and the new league wanted a symbol that would announce its arrival on the global stage. Improvements were made to the original design which saw the removal of laces in an effort to improve players’ grip on the ball.

After the creation of the NBA in 1946, the league initially adopted the NBL’s ball but had to make a few adjustments in order to accommodate its growing fanbase. Arguably the most significant change at the time was switching out its traditional brown color for orange in order to distinguish the ball from the brown hardwood it was played on and enable fans to follow it up and down the court more easily.

Around 1971, the NBA ball underwent yet another overhaul. This time around, its usual four leather panels were doubled to eight leather panels to further improve players’ grip on the ball. Synthetic balls were also introduced the following year but they failed to gain the popularity that leather balls enjoyed.

The last major improvement made to NBA balls occurred in 1983 when the NBA adopted Spalding full-grain leather ball as its official league ball. From its 2021-22 season, the NBA has been using Wilson as its official ball. The ball bore many similarities to its predecessor allowing for a fairly easy transition.

Does NBA Use New Basketballs Every Game?

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the NBA does not use new basketballs every game for a variety of reasons. Rather, balls are often reused provided they pass the league’s strict ball review guidelines before a match.

Below is a brief summary of the guidelines.

  1. Three balls are shortlisted for use in every game. The balls are delivered to the referee’s locker room before a game where the crew chief inspects the balls to ensure that they are free of wear and tear.
  2. It is also the crew chief’s responsibility to ensure that the balls meet the size requirement – balls should have a circumference of 29.5 inches and a pressure of between 5.5 and 8.5 psi.
  3. All three balls that pass the initial test in the locker room are then brought onto the court during warmups. The crew chief then selects the ball that will be used during the game. A crew chief may also of a seasoned player like Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James or Golden State Warriors marksman Steph Curry to help select the game ball from the three.
  4. In case there is a problem with the initial game ball, it is replaced by one of the other two.
  5. Players may request officials to change the game ball but no team is allowed to use their own ball in a game.
  6. All NBA teams are strictly provided with 72 balls at the beginning of every season. Teams may however petition the league to supply them with more balls.
  7. Balls may be used multiple times provided they pass the pre-game inspection.

Interesting Facts About NBA Balls

  • A typical NBA ball may take up to three months to make.
  • None of the balls used in the NBA are new balls. All NBA balls are carefully broken in or conditioned well in advance since they are made of leather.
  • Breaking in a ball makes it softer to the touch which gives players better control and grip.
  • The NBA usually ships the 72 balls to each NBA around July for them to begin their breaking-in process. Natural oils, sweat, and dirt often are usually useful when breaking in a ball.
  • New NBA balls are usually orange in color. They do however turn brown once they are broken in.

Wilson vs Spalding: Which Is Better?

While both Wilson and Spalding produce high-quality basketballs, recent studies show that most people prefer Spalding basketballs for both indoor and outdoor use. It is however important to note that both companies source their leather from the same company to ensure that the balls maintain a certain degree of consistency.

When the NBA switched its official ball supplier from Spalding to Wilson ahead of its 2021-22 campaign, there was a significant shooting slump across the leagues as players adjusted to the subtle nuances of the new ball. The slump saw the league record dips in league averages in both field goal and three-point percentage.

A number of top players including Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George and Denver Nuggets center went on record to highlight their frustration with the then-new ball. George lamented that the ball did not have the same “touch” and “softness” that the Spalding ball had. Jokic echoed George’s sentiments by revealing that he at times loses his grip on the ball.

Other players like former Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and ex-Minnesota Timberwolves wing Malik Beasley nevertheless downplayed the suggestions by arguing that it is ultimately a shooter’s responsibility when he misses shots.