In 1891, the combination of a New England winter and a visionary physical education teacher was the impetus for the birth of the game of basketball. The gym at what is now Springfield College in Massachusetts became the first basketball court and Phys Ed teacher James Naismith sketched out the rules, mounted a peach basket on the wall and commandeered a soccer ball. The game caught on and Naismith asked sports equipment icon A.G. Spalding to design and manufacture a specially designed ball for his new sport. In 1894, it appeared—a ball consisting of a rubber bladder covered with stitched leather panels and a row of laces similar to a football. In 1942, a few years before the first National Basketball Association (NBA) game, basketballs started to be manufactured using molds, a landmark moment—now every ball produced was identical. In the modern day, the average basketball roughly conforms to the official NBA circumference of 29.5 inches. There is still an inflatable rubber bladder, now wrapped in fiber. The outer layer of indoor balls is leather and indoor/outdoor balls are made of more durable rubber or synthetic materials. All basketballs have a textured surface and “ribs,” recesses in the outer layer, for ease of gripping the ball. Official NBA rules call for an orange ball manufactured by Spalding weighing 22oz (known as a “size 7”) with an inflation pressure between 7.5 and 8.5 pounds per square inch. Women’s National Basketball Association balls are also made by Spalding and are orange and white, 28.5-29 inches in circumference and 18-20oz (size 6). National Collegiate Athletic Association balls are made by Wilson, with roughly the same requirements as above, but must also bounce to a certain height when dropped from 6 feet. Lastly, the International Basketball Federation has a laundry list of requirements, apart from similar weight and inflation rules as above, it must have no toxic materials or heavy metals on the outer surface and the balls must pass a litany of bounce tests, fatigue tests, inflation tests and friction tests.
Photo: Stephen Lang