A lot of details in professional basketball are a mystery to fans. For example, have you ever thought about how many basketballs are used in an NBA game? To many, that’s almost an overlooked element, but to real hoopers, a ball could actually be the difference between a good game to a great one. That’s a strange way for non-basketball fans, but that’s the way it is
So, really, how many basketballs are used in an NBA game? The protocol is, in the NBA, home teams present the crew chief or the chief referee, three balls. The officiating crew sees that the balls meet the standards as far as the wear and tear or the pressure. From there, if there is nothing wrong with the first ball that they use, that’s going to be the one and only ball used in the basketball game. If they see a need to replace it, it will be swapped out with the two alternate balls.
Does NBA Use New Basketballs Every Game?
The answer is actually NO, they don’t. The balls handed to the officiating crew before every game simply gets reused. Of course, there are times when players who exploded for career-highs ask for the game ball after the game, but that’s a rare occurrence. If the balls are kept in excellent condition, they will just be reused.
Here are some of the league’s stringent ball review processes, making sure that each game ball adheres to the standards:
- All 30 teams are sent 72 game balls at the beginning of the season. The game ball will be checked and tested before the start of each game.
- The three balls that are eyed to be used in the game will be taken to the referees’ locker room before each game.
- The crew chief will be the designated tester, and he will see to it that the balls are devoid of wear and tear and with pressure between 7.5 to 8.5 psi. What size of basketball do NBA players use? That will be the standard 29.5 inches, and it’s also the crew chief’s job to find out.
- The three balls tested prior to the game will be brought to the court by the official crew chief during the warm-ups. He then selects the game ball from among the three tested balls.
- If there’s a problem with the game ball, it will just be replaced with either one of the two remaining balls. A player could request a ball change from the officials.
- The game officials are given portable air gauges to check the pressure of the ball if needed.
- If a team needs more basketballs, they file an official request to the league, and it will be sent to them.
- Because of these protocols, no team is allowed to use their own ball in the game. The only approved game balls are the ones inspected by the crew chief.
How Many Basketballs are Used in an NBA Season?
As previously mentioned, there are 72 balls sent to each of the NBA teams that they can use for the whole season. From the 72 balls, the game equipment manager or ball boys will select the three game balls, and protocol is followed by the crew chief as far as the actual inspection of the basketballs goes.
Even though the three basketballs selected are under the crew chief’s supervision, he may involve others in the decision-making of that one game ball that’s going to be used. To picture the scene, note how Tony Baxter of ESPN described what went down before tipoff in Game of the 2015 NBA Finals.
Baxter noticed Tony Brothers, the crew chief, went over to LeBron James with three balls in hand. LeBron took the balls one at a time, feeling and dribbling each one. James pointed and nodded to one. The same was done with Steph Curry. Curry also chose the one that LeBron chose, describing the ball as “broken-in” and “softer.”
To many fans watching at home, choosing a ball may simply be an afterthought, but as you see, it comes down to simple science with a dash of personal preference. More often than not, though, these basketball players like the same things, so like what Cury and James did, they come down to a unanimous decision as to which ball they should play with.
How Does the NBA Break in their Basketballs?
The NBA break in their balls the way everyone does: play with them.
Paul Sullivan, the senior vice president of Spalding, also noted that Spalding actually partnered with another company, Horween Leather Company, to create the NBA’s famous game balls. (Next year, though, Wilson will officially take over, and their balls will be used at the beginning of the 2021-22 season.)
For 11 years, Horween sent samples of tanned leather to Spalding and caused problems all over. Some of the leather is too sticky, some are too slippery. It took a long time to finally get it right. When they finally got the right leather, Spalding eventually went on with the partnership, noting how the balls were broken in two months instead of the usual six.
Skip Horween, the president of Horween leather, reiterates how important attention to detail is when making the Spalding game balls. NBA players, Horween said, notice the slight differences of the product almost in an instant. They may not be able to pinpoint the exact difference, but they can tell.
When the balls are finished, 72 of them are shipped to each team around July. That’s when the breakout process should get started. Even before it was sent to teams, the balls were catapulted in a wood plate six feet away. The balls were bounced at least 50 times to “wake the leather up.”
When it reached the players’ hands, it’s nothing but good old-school sweat and dirt that break in the balls. There is a difference when the ball is broken in from the sweat, oil, and dirt from the players from the one broken in by a bouncing machine.
Players also noted that balls that were not broken in are uncomfortable to play with. Sometimes, players get bloody fingers from shooting brand new balls for an hour just because the thread is brand new. Just when the orange ball turns brown because of the natural oils and dirt, the players like to play with the ball. More often than not, that process will take about a couple of months.
What Happens to the Basketballs After the Game?
The game balls used in the game are either taken by a player, given to a fan, or simply reused for the next game.
The first two scenarios are unique and are only done on special occasions. For instance, Player A may have scored a career-high 60 and wanted the game ball for himself. If that occurs, he simply needs to ask for it. Or that same player may sign and give the ball to a fan. It’s the same procedure, but he just needs to ask for it from the officials. If none of these things happen, then the ball will be kept by the equipment manager and used for the next game.
From these facts, if you’re thinking about the number of basketballs used in the NBA game, it could be anywhere from one to three under normal circumstances.
How Long Do the NBA Use the Same Basketball for?
In the NBA, the same ball will be used for as long as there are no extreme wear and tear. According to Spalding, the average life span of an NBA game ball is 10,000 ounces. There are usually over 2,600 bounces of the balls in an NBA game, so that gives it four or five games.
Of course, that estimate is based on many factors. As we all know, the NBA plays in generally pristine courts that should preserve game balls’ life span. As mentioned, it takes a couple of months before that thing is broken in, and players would not want to play with a ball that’s not broken in. With all these things considered, t would not make sense if a game ball lasts for only a few games.
To give you an idea of how long some balls last, some played with a Triple-Double NBA basketball (not an NBA game ball), and it lasted 12 months with its fantastic grip. Some also played with various balls and got a year of run out of it playing every day at the local YMCA.
What Basketball Does the NBA Use?
The NBA has been using Spalding over the last 30 years, but that partnership will only last until the end of the 2020-21 season. At the start of 2021-22, NBA will use Wilson basketballs.
Wilson was the NBA’s first partner since the league’s inception in 1946. For 36 seasons, Wilson is the official manufacturer of the NBA game balls. In 1983, the NBA turned to Spalding, the company that manufactured the first-ever basketball in 1894, off of the design of a baseball. Wilson will also manufacture game balls for the WNBA, the NBA G-League, Basketball Africa League (BAL), and the NBA 2K League. The company has long been the official game ball of NCAA basketball and high school leagues across the United States.
Back in 2006, the NBA and Spalding decided to switch to a synthetic version of basketballs, which was met with uproar by the players. It was often remembered as one of the most significant failed experiments in league history. The old leather ball was back as the NBA’s standard ball in 2007.
Why Did the NBA Make the Switch from Spalding back to Wilson?
There is no concrete answer to this question aside from the fact that in the original report by Yahoo’s Chris Haynes, he said it was a mutual agreement between the NBA and Spalding. What’s more, it appears that the change is more of a re-brand, more than anything else.
According to Haynes, the same leather supplier and product specifications will be followed. The NBA and NBPA will create a panel to offer suggestions team of engineers and designers. Hence, it will probably be just the same Spalding ball, but only this time, it’s the name Wilson that will be on it.
If Wilson makes the new NBA game basketball in the same way that they make their best basketball now, it will probably make the league more of a guard and shooter’s league than it already is. Wilson basketballs are noticeably softer, so shooters will love it; on the other hand, Spalding has a more rubbery feel, making it stick to the hands but is trickier to shoot.
Regardless, reading past the original headline, next year’s game ball will probably be the same ball with a different brand, so there’s nothing to worry about here.
Wrapping Things Up: How Many Basketballs are Used in an NBA Game?
The straight answer to the question “how many basketballs are used in an NBA game?” is anywhere from one to three. On many occasions, it will just be one, but if the game is taken by a player or is deemed unfit for use in the middle of the game, then it may be changed to one of the two balls in reserve.
To determine which basketballs will be used in the game, the chief crew selects three out of the team’s 72 official game balls. He will be the one responsible for the measurement of the pressure and the size of the ball. When he selects the three, he may enlist the help of both team captains to determine the ball to start with.
Many players like balls that are already broken in. For the Spalding game balls, it usually starts to break in after two months of use. Depending on many factors, dirt, oils, and sweat from the players could accelerate the break-in process.
Last but not least, it’s important to note that the NBA is switching from Spalding to Wilson starting next season. The report is that it will still be the exact product specifications under a different brand. That is probably what they will do because the last time they tried to experiment on new materials, it was met with pandemonium by the players. The next time someone asks, “What basketball do NBA players use?” the answer should be Wilson for the 2021-22 season, but with the same specs as the old Spalding leather game balls.
Did you find this helpful? Then also check out other basketball FAQ articles here.
> How Many Basketballs are Made Each Year?
> How Long Does a Basketball Game Last?