Almost every sport in the world is played with a ball. Each one has its own dimensions, history, and reasons for existing. There are some that are widely known, and some that blend into the game. However, few are more iconic than the basketball.
The orange ball with the trademark Spalding logo has long been the face of the NBA, but after such a long time that’s no longer the case. The following article will explain the reasons behind that shift, as well as why it happened.
The First Attempt
The NBA first came into being all the way back in 1891. While it took a few years, the sport became increasingly popular for kids and adults all over the United States. However, while it rapidly expanded to schools and parks alike, there was no official ball.
Coaches and organizers tried numerous ideas over the years, with most leagues making theirs from panels of stitched leather with a cloth lining and a rubber bladder inside. Then, in 1942 everything changed with the invention of a fully molded ball with a 40-inch circumference.
That became the norm for the NBA (and other U.S. leagues) starting in 1949. At that time, a slew of different organizations manufactured balls on a wide scale. The ABA used a special red, white, and blue ball from 1967 to 1970, but that went away during the merger with the NBA.
Though there was a lot of competition, Wilson held the NBA contract for the first thirty seven years of the league’s existence. That finally changed in 1983. Shortly after the regulation ball went from four panels to eight panels, Spalding took the driver’s seat.
The Rise of Spalding
Once Wilson’s contract ran out, Spalding became the sole ball creator for the NBA. That was due to the full-grain leather the company used. It felt great in player’s hands, was easy for them to hold, and created a much better playing experience.
It was an instant hit with the players and coaches alike. Everyone loved the look and feel. In just a few seasons, the Spalding print on the NBA basketball became one of the most well known and best recognized balls on planet Earth.
Over the years, Spalding even improved on their original model. They made the ball more durable, used unique materials, and managed to even create ones that had two interlocking panels rather than the more traditional eight.
Even so, as great as their models were, Spalding’s time with the NBA recently came to an end.
Wilson’s Back (Again)
Spalding’s logo graced the NBA’s official ball for decades, but in 2020 they decided to not renew their longstanding contract with the league. In doing so, they enabled other brands to step up and take its place. There were a few offers, but Wilson won out.
Starting in the 2021-2022 season, the company once again took over making balls for the NBA. The move coincided with the NBA’s 75th anniversary season. As part of the contract, they now also make the game balls for the Basketball Africa League, G League, and WNBA too.
However, not everyone is happy with the move. Field goal percentage has been down across the NBA, with some players blaming the new balls for the inconsistency.
They say the change affected their shooting ability, even if there are no stats to back that up. There’s no doubt that small shifts can impact professional athletes, but a different ball feel is unlikely to be the only reason for the drop.
Basketball, Around the World
Wilson is now the leading basketball maker, but it’s far from the only one. There are many big brands who supply the balls for leagues all across the world. Everyone has their own contract, as well as their own preferences on how basketballs should be made.
The Japanese sporting goods manufacturer Morton has a contract with FIBA Asia, VTB United League, the FIBA world championships, as well as several domestic leagues. That makes them the second biggest producer on Earth.
In contrast, Rawlings produces balls for the Amateur Athletic Union, Nike creates balls for NCAA Philippines and UAAP. It used to make balls for the Euroleague too, but Spalding now owns that contract.
Most modern NBA fans readily recognize the classic orange NBA ball with a black Spalding logo. While it won’t be on the official game balls anymore, it’s still a part of NBA history. Wilson is also linked to the league, their story just began a bit earlier.
Either way, the move won’t affect the game or how it’s played. While some players and fans suspect the shift has negatively impacted shooting, that’s likely to balance out over time. Everyone will get used to the new style eventually. They always do.