When basketball was invented by Dr. James Naismith back in 1891, they infamously used peach baskets and soccer balls to make it happen. It wasn’t until 1984 when Naismith himself called Spalding (then called A.G, Spalding & Bros.) and asked them to make a particular ball made especially for the sport. Well, who knew that a ball could have so much history? If you like basketball and want to learn more about its history, have you ever thought about how many basketballs are made each year? Furthermore, do you want to know how basketballs are made?
How are Basketballs Made?
Making basketballs involve a lot of hard work. We cannot ascertain how other basketball brands make their products, but when it comes to making official NBA game basketballs, the process can be painstakingly extensive.
Here’s how it’s done: Spalding, who supplies NBA game balls for the last 37 years, procures leather from Horween Leather Company in Chicago. Horween Leather is one of the oldest leather tanneries in the United States. They got shipments of about 3,000 cowhides every week, each undergoing a rigorous three-process that involves hair-shaving, tanning, and drying. The hides are also embossed with 1,000-ton German-made plates that give the basketballs that distinct pebbling.
When Horween Leather ships the cowhides to Spalding, it’s not the end of the story. These are sent to China for sewing and cutting. The inside of a basketball is comprised of a spherical rubber bag (often called the “bladder”) wrapped in nylon thread and covered with six rubber panels, each glued by hand.
After this process, Spalding initially assesses the ball out if they pass the bounce test (also called the vertical test). The balls are dropped by a machine from an elevation of six feet, and they are expected to bounce anywhere from 52 to 56 inches. If it’s off, then it’s not going to make it. Other tests include measurements of diameter, weight, and so forth, determining that the balls should be virtually identical.
Now, here’s the thing: Spalding is on the way out as the provider of NBA game balls and will be replaced by Wilson. How does that affect how the game balls are made? Hopefully, it doesn’t affect anything. Wilson and the NBA agree that the same leather will be obtained through Horween Leather and that the league assigns a committee to ensure that the exact specifications are followed. So essentially, the Wilson balls used for next season are the same product as the Spalding, only with a different brand name.
How Many Basketballs Does the NBA Have?
When Spalding ships the game balls to the NBA, the league assigns each team 72 balls before the start of the season. If, for some reason, they feel the need to obtain more basketballs, all a team needs to do is formally request the league. Therefore, at the minimum, NBA teams use 2,160 balls each season.
From the 72 balls, every home team selects three out of the pack. The selection will be under the supervision of the crew chief. The equipment manager or the ball boy brings three basketballs to the crew chief, who then inspects the ball if they are of standard size and weight. Most of the time, though, the crew chief could use the help of the two team captains to select the ball they should start the game with.
How Many Basketballs are Made Each Year?
After knowing how basketballs are made, the nuances of ball manufacturing, and the minimum number of basketballs the NBA has, it’s time to answer the question, how many basketballs are made each year?
We do not know for sure, but estimates have it that there could be anywhere from 250,000 to 25 million basketballs sold each year in the United States. The Statista website puts the total basketball sales in 2020 at 242.6 million. If the average price of a ball is $30, then that puts the total balls sold at over 8 million.
From there, there is really no way to tell how many basketballs are made each year unless we can get the inventory data of every ball manufacturer there is. From the sales alone, it is pretty evident that millions of basketball are made and manufactured each year worldwide.
How Many Basketballs are Purchased by the NBA Each Year?
As previously stated, the NBA gives 72 balls to each team at the start of the season. That brings the ball count to 2,160 basketballs. However, since teams can actually request the league for more balls for whatever reason, that number could easily double or triple. There is just no way to tell apart from the fact that the league gives a total of 2,160 balls every year to start with.
What are the Different Sizes of Basketballs?
From the soccer balls used in the advent of basketball to the invention of the first basketball, the sizes of basketballs have undergone quite an evolution. For instance, the first basketball made by A.G. Spalding in 1892 was 32 inches in circumference and weighs a little under 20 ounces. Today, the official size of NBA basketball is a size 7, characterized by 29.5 inches in circumference, and weighs around 1.4 pounds or 22 ounces.
Here are the different sizes used in various basketball levels:
- Boys 15 and up. Official size 7; 29.5” circumference; 22.5 ounces in weight
- Boys 12-14 and girls 12 and up. Official size 6; 28.5” circumference; 20 ounces in weight
- Boys and girls 9-11 years old. Standard youth size, size 5; 27.5” circumference; 17 ounces in weight
- Boys and girls 5-8 years old. Standard size 4; 25.5” in circumference; 14 ounces in weight
Other basketball sizes:
Size 3– Used by boys and girls aged at least 4 years old; 22-inch circumference, 10 ounces in weight; known as the “mini” basketball
Size 1– Used by boys and girls from 2 to 4 years old; 16-inch circumference, 8-ounce weight; also called the “micro-mini” basketball
Nerf toy– Basically a toy ball used by toddlers 0-4 years of age; it can be anywhere from 9 inches to 20 inches in circumference and weighs 5 ounces at most.
How to Choose a Basketball
Not all balls are created equal. There certainly are differences between a $160 NBA game ball and a $30 ball you can find in most stores. Selecting the perfect ball for your level and your style of play allows you to be your best. Choosing a basketball inappropriate for your age and size may have adverse developmental effects on your game. Additionally, if you are playing in a league, they may have rules in place regarding the size of the ball that they are going to allow.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a basketball:
Indoor vs. Outdoor. The playing environment should be one of the most significant factors when choosing a basketball. Are you playing in a polished court with wooden tiles, in the driveway, or in a concrete playground? Outdoor basketballs are designed with thicker rubber and are durable enough to handle rough surfaces. Meanwhile, if you use leather basketball on outdoor courts, it may wear the material quickly and may cause splits and breaks all over the leather.
Composite vs. Rubber vs. Leather. Unless you really play in super pristine basketball courts, leather is usually not recommended. The other choices in basketball material boil down to composite and rubber. Now, rubber basketballs are typically cheap, durable, and can be used in outdoor play. Composite or synthetic basketballs are pricier than rubber balls, but they are softer to the touch and easier to the hands.
Size. All basketball sizes have been outlined in the section above, but it’s important to choose the right basketball size to ensure that you maintain the proper technique as your body develops. There is no way an eight-year-old can correctly develop shooting form with a size 7, 22-ounce basketball. Similarly, a size 6 basketball would be too light for a 20-year-old guy, potentially affecting his range and accuracy.
Color. As far as basketball color is concerned, you can choose any as long as it’s just some recreational play. When you play in a competitive league, they may require the traditional orange hue that we see in most basketballs.
Training Basketball. Training basketballs are used when you are working on your game and skills, such as shooting. Some training balls have markers to see the correct hand placement, and some come with added weight to build strength. You may choose to buy one if you are planning to take the game a little more seriously.
Wrapping Things Up: How Many Basketballs are Made Each Year?
If you hear someone ask how many basketballs are made each year, you may reckon it’s a strange question. It probably is, but it is also a testament to how basketball has become so popular that we are already talking about its sales volume.
Well, the truth is, we can only speculate as to how many basketballs are made each year and how many basketballs are sold each year. Unless we have the complete inventory and sales reports of the ball-manufacturing companies worldwide, there is no way to exactly tell the number.
However, we can estimate the number of balls sold in the United States annually. According to Statista.com, the total basketball sales in the United States in 2020 is $242.6 million. If the average price of a basketball is $30, then the total number of balls sold each year in the United States may well be around 8 million. Again, there is really no way to exactly tell how this number projects worldwide.
Here’s the deal: While we cannot pinpoint the exact number of basketballs made and sold each year, we definitely know how basketballs are made. The leather is purchased from Holween Leather Company in Chicago, where it undergoes a strict, three-week process that involves shaving hairs, tanning, and drying. It is also stamped by a 1,000-ton press, giving basketball that distinctive pebbly feel and look.
From there, the leather hides are sent to China for sewing and cutting. At some point, the manufacturers assemble the basketball with the “bladder” with the nylon thread inside and then covered by six panels glued by hand. Each of the balls is tested in size and weight and will also have to pass the “bounce test.”
When Spalding has all NBA game balls ready, they will send them to the league, which in turn sends them to all 30 teams. The NBA allocates 72 balls for each team before the start of the season. This means the NBA purchases a minimum of 2,160 game basketballs for use throughout the whole season.
As a basketball fan, aren’t you glad to know this tiny but important detail about the game we love? This may just all be about ball sizes, how many basketballs are made each year, and how basketballs are made, but it certainly feels like our appreciation for the sport has deepened with this one-of-a-kind information.