All real hoopers know that the game ball is all important. As soon as you touch it before the game you know if you’re going to have a good night or not. A nice tactile ball with just the right amount of bounce that snuggles softly into your hands when it hits your shooting pocket. That’s something worth treasuring. I’ve always wondered if that feeling carries over for the players that actually make it to the NBA, or are all the balls just the same exceptionally high standard? I did some digging into how the NBA manages its game balls.
How many balls are used in an NBA game? The NBA officiating crew chief will be presented with 3 balls by the home team before the game. They will check they meet the leagues standards for ware and tear and pressure.
Assuming these standards are met they will be bought out to the court before tip off and a primary game ball will be selected and used, the others 2 becoming alternates. If an issue develops with that ball during the game it will be switched out for one of the 2 alternate balls by the officiating crew chief. In summary, if nothing goes wrong, 1 single ball will be used during an NBA game. Where do the home team get the 3 balls from? What happens to them afterwards? Do all teams provide the same type of ball? We try and answer these questions and more below!
How are NBA game balls selected for play?
The NBA will provide each team with 72 official standard game balls at the start of each season. This seems like plenty to me, but if teams need more during the season, they only need request more from the league. It is the Home team’s responsibility to ensure at least 3 of these balls are available and in the correct condition for use during a game. They will present them to the officials before the game for inspection and selection.
Where does the NBA get their game balls from?
The NBA gets all it’s official game balls from Spalding. They have been the official provider of NBA game balls since 1983 when they took over the contract from Wilson after nearly 40 years.
The leather used for the balls is currently sourced from Horween Leather based in Chicago, Illinois. The product supplied to Spalding for use on the NBA game balls is made to specific specifications including tanning and embossing. This ensures the premium feel and look of the ball.
Once the balls are manufactured Spalding put them through a uniform and tough testing process before supplying them to the NBA. This process also helps start the transition of the ball so it’s closer to game ready fresh out the box.
The video below is a great behind the scenes look into all that goes on getting a ball ready for an NBA game.
What specification does the NBA have for game balls?
Aside from being the correct brand and model as detailed above, the ball must meet specific wear a tear, pressure and ‘rebound’ measurements. The rebound is tested by Spalding before the ball is supplied. We’ve all seen an official drop it from around 6 feet and have it rebound up to his elbow, the Spalding process is a little more scientific. A machine drops the ball from 6 feet and the requirement is for it to rebound back up to 52inches (4 feet 4 inches).
This vertical rebound test is carried out after the Spalding team have inflated the ball to 8.5psi. The official pressure for an NBA game ball needs to fall between 7.5 and 8.5 psi.
NBA game balls are all 29.75 inches in circumference and should show no visible wear and tear.
It is interesting to note that the colour of an NBA game ball changes over time. Fresh out the box they are lighter orange, as they get worn in by Spalding’s tests and use in practice they start to darken, turning almost brown. It is at this point that equipment managers will start to consider them for selection as game balls.
What happens to NBA game balls after the final buzzer?
During the season the 3 balls selected for use in an NBA game will be returned to the equipment store of the home team for general use in practice and drills. Each game, 3 different balls will be selected to present the officiating crew for selection.
Any balls that become defective or fall outside of the correct specifications will be taken out of use. Probably given to local schools, clubs or taken home as a perk of the job by the equipment managers.
I’ve been unable to find out exactly what happens to the 72 NBA game balls teams are provided with at the end of a season. In this day and age of caring for our scarce resources I hope they are kept in service as long as they stay in specification.
This season however will prove different. As it is the last season the NBA will use game balls provided by Spalding. Switching back to Wilson after nearly 40 years.
Why is the NBA game ball switching from Spalding to Wilson?
It was announced in May 2020 that the NBA would be switching suppliers of the official game ball from Spalding to Wilson. As detailed above Spalding had been the supplier for nearly 40 years, the same as Wilson had been for nearly 40 years before that. It said the decision to change suppliers was a mutual decision between Spalding and the NBA.
It has been reported that the leather used to make the ball will continue to come from the same supplier, see above, and be produced to the same standards.
This probably has something to do with the 2006 debacle where the material used was switched without consulting the players. Something that commissioner at the time Davide Stern admitted had been a mistake, before orchestrating a prompt switch back. Details of that incident can be found here.
Where can I buy an official NBA game ball?
The official Wilson NBA game ball is currently not available for retail purchase. We will update date you as and when they are.