How to Inflate a Basketball

Inflating a basketball is not something you really need to do all that often. When you buy a brand new basketball, it is usually already inflated so you really don’t think too much about it. After a while, basketballs tend to lose a little air and if you let one sit around for a long time, it will definitely end up flat.

Even an often used basketball will eventually need air. You may go out to play a game and notice that your ball is not bouncing quite as it should. Cold weather may also lower the pressure in a basketball making it seem unresponsive when you dribble and shoot. In either case, you can always add a little air to solve the problem.

Why should you care if your basketball is properly inflated? How do you know when your basketball is properly inflated? What is the best way to properly inflate your basketball? These are all common questions with fairly simple answers. Let’s take a look at each question one at a time.

Why Should I Properly Inflate My Basketball?

A properly inflated basketball will ensure that your practice, one-on-one game, full-court five-on-five game or even your game of HORSE is the best experience that it can be. An underinflated ball will not have any “action”, meaning it will not bounce very well, which will make it more difficult to dribble. Also, it will not bank off the backboard as well and bounce passes will not go as far as you intend them to go.

An overinflated ball can be bad as well. It will bounce too high when you dribble, bank too hard off the backboard and bounce passes will go farther than you intend them to go. This is why it is important to have your basketball inflated to the specified pressure or at least near the specified pressure.

How Do I know If My Basketball is Properly Inflated?

The standard pressure recommended for a basketball is 7 – 9 PSI (48.26 – 62.05 kPa). Unless you have a pressure gauge, and many air pumps do (we’ll talk about that in the next section), then you will not know what the air pressure in your basketball is. Not to worry, there is a simple method that you can use to check the inflation of your ball. It won’t give you the PSI (or kPa), but it will be good enough to get you back out on the court.

  1. Hold the basketball at about the level of your face.
  2. Drop the basketball.
  3. Let the ball bounce.
  4. If the ball is properly inflated, it should bounce back up to around your waist level.

Another great way to tell is just by playing with the ball and dribbling it. You can often tell if it is under or over-inflated. Different players prefer various levels of inflation, so an ideal inflation level to one player may be too much or not enough to others. An interesting thing to do next time you watch a game or attend one live is to watch which players walk over to the referee before tip-off and test the ball by grabbing it and dribbling.

What’s the Best Way to Properly Inflate a Basketball

I have seen many videos and instructions out there on the internet that explain how to inflate a ball without the proper equipment. While these methods may or may not work, it is always best to use the proper equipment because you can ensure that you are inflating the basketball to the correct pressure. Using the proper equipment will also help prevent you from damaging your basketball.

Let’s take a look at what you will need to properly inflate your basketball.

What You Will Need

Inflation Needle

These are relatively cheap and can be found at almost any store that carries any type of athletic equipment. They can also be found easily online.

See the picture below if you are not familiar with what they look like.

Inflation Needle. Photo by Melissa Medina.

Air Pump

There are many different types of air pumps. Below are a few types that can be used such as a hand pump, a bicycle pump or an electric pump. Basically, you need a basketball pump that can connect to the needle. Some air pumps come with built-in pressure gauges which can show you the air pressure as you are inflating the ball. You can also use an air compressor but that can be a little more complicated depending on the type of compressor and the connectors available.

Three types of air pumps.

Air Pressure Gauge (optional)

If your air pump does not have an air pressure gauge, you may want to get a separate air pressure gauge to check the pressure in your ball. Air pressure gauges can be found online or in stores, but as we mentioned above they are optional and not necessary to inflate your basketball.

Don’t have a needle? Also read this article: how to pump a basketball without needle

Steps to Inflate Your Basketball

Step 1: Attach the inflation needle to the air pump.

How to attach the needle will depend on the type of air pump you are using. Most hand pumps made for a basketball will be threaded and you can screw needle onto the pump. If you are using a bicycle pump, it will probably have a connector with a latch (see below). You must put the needle into the connector and tighten the latch to hold the needle in place.

Attach the needle to the pump.
Attach the needle to the pump.

Electric air pumps may have the same type of latch, but a big industrial compressor may need some type of adapter and I wouldn’t recommend using an industrial compressor unless you really know what you are doing.

Step 2: Moisten the inflation needle.

Get a wet paper towel and wipe the needle to moisten it. If you don’t have a wet paper towel, you can run it underwater or even spit on it. The moisture allows the needle to slide into the valve easier and prevents damage to the valve. If the valve is damaged it can cause your basketball to leak air.

Step 3: Insert the needle into the valve.

Once the needle has been moistened, slowly insert it into the valve of the basketball until the needle is all the way in the valve.

Insert the needle into the valve of the basketball.

Step 4: Begin inflating.

If you are using a hand pump or a bicycle pump you will need to manually pump the air in. If you are using an electric pump or a compressor you can turn it on. WARNING! When using an electric pump or a compressor, monitor the inflation at all times. The ball will fill very quickly and if overfilled it can pop and destroy the ball.

Step 5: Check the air pressure.

Monitor the air pressure as you are inflating. Use one hand on the ball as you are inflating it to feel the pressure rise. If your pump has an air pressure gauge, check it regularly. If it does not use a separate gauge or check it using the bounce method described above.

Once the air pressure seems good, get out there on the court and start having fun!

Additional Resources

There are many types of air pumps on the market. Take a look at some of the following if you are interested.

If you would like to see how to inflate a basketball using an air compressor, check out this video.

Final Words

Eventually, all basketballs will need to be inflated because they will lose air over time. Fortunately, the process is fairly simple as we have shown above and the equipment needed is relatively cheap. So, if you want to have an enjoyable game of basketball, make sure your basketball is always properly inflated, then get out there and have some fun!

Have you ever tried to play basketball with an under-inflated or over-inflated basketball? We’d love to hear from you, so please leave your comments.

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