History of the Basketball Ball

Basketball has been around since 1891 and is one of the most popular sports in the world today. It is a team sport played between two teams, typically consisting of five players each. The objective of the game is for players to score points by throwing a ball into each other’s baskets or goal. The team with more points at the end of each game wins. 

The basketball ball used in modern games has actually gone through a number of changes over the years. It boasts a classic design that dates back centuries, but has experienced many materials and design refinements over the years. From its first early incarnation to its modern day look, it’s an interesting story how far the basketball ball has come.

This post takes a look at the history of the basketball ball and how it has changed and evolved to become the iconic symbol of the sport. We trace its development from the early leather balls to the synthetic models of today. Let’s see what it looked like before it became the rubber-covered spheroid we know today.

Early Origins of Basketball Balls

The basketball ball has undergone many modifications over the years, from its original design all the way to the modern version we know and love today. Let’s trace its origins!

What Was Used Before Basketball?

the timeline of basketball as a sport

Before basketball was officially declared a sport, people had been playing variations of the game. The rules of the game were quite similar to the ones we know today. 

Basketball players used different readily available balls, such as a soccer ball, volleyball, or even an inflated pig bladder to play the game. However, these materials lacked durability and were not suitable for regular play due to their size, weight or bounciness/lack of bounciness.

The changes in the ball’s design is what helped shape the game as we know it today. Basketball by the numbers tells you all about the evolution of the sport. 

Evolution of Ball Materials 

As basketball became increasingly popular, different materials were experimented with in order to create a more suitable and specialized ball for the game. With technological improvements, people started using leather materials and rubber balls for playing basketball. This allowed for better control over the size and weight of the balls which also improved the accuracy while shooting or passing. It was seen as an improvement on the traditional soccer or football, but it was still not truly suitable for basketball.

First Official Basketball Ball 

Made by sporting goods company Spalding, the first official basketball ball was created in 1894, just a few years after the game was invented by James Naismith. It featured a circumference of 30 inches, which evolved into 29.5 inches/28.5 inches for men and women respectively. It was made using leather panels that were stitched together using laces, with an inflatable rubber bladder inside. This design made dribbling and passing easier than with other material balls.

This type of basketball ball became the standard for many years and was known as “the Naismith Ball” (named after the creator of the game). Today, this same concept is still used to make high performance composite basketball balls that are durable and can withstand rough play on the court.

Development of the Modern Basketball Ball

As technology became more sophisticated, people became more aware of how to improve equipment for sports. Due to this, the design of basketball balls began to change.

Introduction of Rubber 

The introduction of rubber was instrumental in improving the structure and bounce of a basketball. Before it, the balls were made up mostly of leather and lacked the consistent bounce that is seen in today’s modern balls. Incorporating rubber allowed for better control over their size and weight. It also provided durability and resistance to wear-and-tear with its bounce-ability and softness upon impact with hard surfaces or floors.

Not only did it make the balls lighter, this new material also allowed for various textures to be included, bringing a better feel while handling the ball. The balls became more responsive which further improved accuracy when shooting or passing it during gameplay. 

Changes in Ball Size and Weight 

how to choose a basketball 

Since its invention in 1891, there have been gradual changes in ball size and weight to suit the players’ needs as well as the different playing styles and conditions. 

In 1948-49, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) specified basketballs to measure 29.5 inches (28.5 for women’s basketball), which has remained the standard to date. The original weight for these balls was around 20 ounces. However, today’s weighted balls range from 20-22 ounces depending on their intended use or league regulations. Considering the size and weight of the basketball, as well as your playing style and conditions is helpful in selecting the right basketball

Texture and Grip Improvements 

In addition to changes in size and weight, there have also been improvements made to the texture and grip characteristics of a basketball ball over time. During its early days, basketballs were made out of leather which meant there wasn’t any significant grip when handling the ball with bare hands due to the material’s slippery nature. 

Today’s modern basketballs are equipped with a layer of pebbles or bumps which aid players in dribbling and shooting more consistently than before. The textured surface provides an improved grip sensation whether handled by bare hands or with a finger tape designed specifically for basketball players. These features make it easier for the players to control the ball when playing at high speeds or during wet conditions where maintaining grip on the ball can be challenging. 

Some Notable Basketball Ball Manufacturers

Some Notable Basketball Ball Manufacturers


Spalding is one of the oldest companies in basketball equipment throughout history. Founded in 1876 by A.G. Spalding, this company is one of the most popular and recognizable names in the sporting world. They started by manufacturing footballs and baseballs and soon branched out into different sports including basketball. 

The company is also credited with producing some of the first widely adopted rubber-coated basketball balls and was one of the first companies to introduce synthetic materials into its designs. 

The company has had multiple deals with both the NBA along with NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association). It has provided them with their official game balls over time under license terms with both organizations 


Established in 1913 by Thomas E. Wilson, Wilson Sporting Goods Company is another major figure in the history of basketball balls. The company has a huge presence in both competitive as well as recreational sports.

In the present day, the company has partnerships with both NBA (National Basketball Association) along with NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association). Its iconic “double-diamond” logo can be seen on some of its most popular designs and is still used today as a symbol of quality and innovation in sports equipment manufacturing. 


Founded in 1971 by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman, Nike has become one of the most trusted names in sports equipment design and manufacturing. It is well-known for signing numerous high profile athletes in a variety of sports genres. 

Nike doesn’t currently have any official partnerships currently set up with either NBA (National Basketball Association) nor NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) for basketball balls. However, they do manufacture some unofficial/unlicensed versions that are popular amongst casual players and pros alike.

Impact of Technology on Basketball Balls

Thanks to technological advancements over time, modern basketball balls offer much more than their predecessors ever could.

New Materials and Designs

The earliest basketballs were made of a rough leather casing filled with a bladder made of animal skin or rubber. As material sciences advanced, new materials were developed to create lighter, more durable balls. Common materials used in basketballs today include rubber, composite leather, and microfiber composite materials.  

These materials combined with newer technologies, such as air retention systems help provide additional bounce and longevity on the court. The texturing technique and foam core construction also allow manufacturers to create signature designs suited towards specific player preferences.

Smart Basketballs

Many companies now offer “smart” basketballs that track performance metrics such as ball movement, spin rate, and shot accuracy. The smart basketball balls use sensors and tracking algorithms to measure speed, spin and height, allowing you to tailor your training routine for an even better performance. They are often connected to apps on a smartphone or tablet device where you can track performance or store data for further analysis. 

Future Possibilities

As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, researchers are looking into ways to make the traditional basketball ball even smarter and more responsive to its environment. Ideas range from adding sensors to the outside of the ball to detect motion and spin rate to using embedded accelerometers to track player movement on the court. Although these ideas have yet to become reality, they are nonetheless providing a glimpse into what may be possible in the future for the beloved basketball ball. 


Basketball didn’t always have the same standardized ball we recognize today. Early balls were made from animal hides, but when rubber became mainstream, it allowed for improvements in the ball’s size, weight, texture and grip quality. Companies like Spalding and Wilson introduced many new materials and techniques that helped mold the ball into the modern one we know and love today.

Technological advancement also has had a profound impact on the design and construction of basketball balls. The smart technology has some potential applications too with its ability to collect metrics from each move. This gives you valuable insights during practices and games respectively. With continued advancements in technology, future possibilities may be even more exciting than those available today!