The Wilson Airless Gen1 3d printed basketball. Has holes throughout exterior.

3D Printing a Basketball and 14 More Fun Facts About Basketballs

In December 1891, James Naismith, a Canadian-American professor at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, invented a new game where players passed a ball and tried to score points by tossing it into a basket.

He set up a peach basket with the bottom intact and used a soccer ball for the first games before switching to a laceless ball and eventually an orange basketball as we know and love today.

Since then the Basketball has gone through many evolutions – including now a 3D-printed version.

3D Printing Basketballs

Wilson's 3D printed basketball in black sits on a metal stand.
Photo Credit: Wilson.com

Sports equipment company Wilson has reinvented the basketball by introducing airless 3D printed balls. The balls feature hexagonal holes for air passes while mimicking the general style of a traditional basketball.

They don’t require inflation and are created to the same weight, size, and bounce standards as traditional basketballs, but they aren’t regulated for NBA games at this point. Even with a hefty price tag of $2500 each, the initial run of 200 balls sold out quickly.

Read on for 15 more interesting basketball facts.

NBA and WNBA Use Different Basketballs

Basketball grunge illustration.
Image Credit: Depositphotos.com.

Leagues like the NBA and WNBA have exact measurements for the official ball, including size, air pressure, and bounce. 

  • NBA Basketball (Size 7) – circumference between 29.5 and 30 inches and weighs between 20 and 22 ounces.
  • WNBA Basketball (Size 6) – circumference between 28.5 and 29 inches in and weighs 18-20 ounces.

More Than Just a Rubber Ball

Closeup old basketball basket ball.
Image Credit: Depositphotos.com.

With few exceptions, basketballs are comprised of multiple layers beginning with a rubber bladder that holds the air. Around that liner, basketballs are wrapped with layers of fibers which are covered with an outside layer of leather, rubber, or a synthetic composite.

A Snapshot of Constructing the Bladder

Basketball going through the net with lights.
Image Credit: Deposit Photos.

The basketball manufacturing process begins with melting black butyl rubber in a press, forming a continuous sheet. The sheet is cut, punched with a hole for an air tube, and stacked.

At the assembly line, the air tube is hand-inserted and bonded, with edges stamped and bound to create the bladder for inflation. This bladder undergoes vulcanization for improved flexibility, durability, and strength, ensuring airtightness. After a 24-hour holding period for quality control, defective bladders are recycled. 

Irregular Bladders

deflated Basketball.
Image Credit: Depositphotos.com.

Bladders passing the 24-hour test move to the twining department, where machines wrap polyester or nylon thread around them, shaping the irregular bladders into usable formations. Thread quality and quantity dictate ball cost and quality. Street-quality balls feature three strands of polyester, while professional-grade ones use four strands of nylon. 

Building the Outside

Closeup of orange basketball texture.
Image Credit: Depositphotos.com.

Ball covers are produced on tables with colored rubber unrolled and outlined using silk screens. Panels are punched out with a hand-operated press, including a hole for the air tube. Workers assemble panels in a form-fitted vulcanizer, gluing a bladder inside. The ball emerges smooth but with formed channels and embossing. A second vulcanization unifies the surface, blending in fillers and forming pebbling. After a 24-hour test, the balls are ready for use.

How Much Waste Is Created?

Recycling symbol surrounded by recyclables.
Image Credit: Depositphotos.com.

Thanks to recycling, basketball manufacturing produces minimal waste. The unique shape makes waste inevitable, but due to the high costs of quality, including the leather that covers NBA balls, precision design and material cutting are paramount to manufacturers.

Orange Is the New Brown

basketballs.
Image Credit: Depositphotos.com.

The original basketballs were brown, but spectators found them too difficult to see on the courts. Today, the familiar NBA basketball color is a more visible shade of orange, with panels separated by recessed lines creating a wedge-look. However, there are exceptions to this color rule. The American Basketball Association and the Harlem Globetrotters use a red, white, and blue color combination. The NBA All-Star Weekend three-pointer contest also used a tri-color ball.

Indoor Balls vs Outdoor Balls

man holding a basketball.
Image Credit: Depositphotos.com.

Indoor basketball courts are smooth and specifically paired with leather indoor balls. These balls need to be conditioned to achieve optimal grip for use in a game. Outdoor balls are commonly made from rubber exteriors, able to stand up to rougher conditions like asphalt, dirt, and moisture. They also require more frequent air refills than indoor leather-wrapped balls.

Except for That One Ball

Luther Head of the Houston Rockets NBA team with spalding basketball in December 2006.
Luther Head in December 2006. Photo Credit: Keith Allison, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 2006 the NBA tried out a new ball, unlike any material previously used in professional play. The NBA decided to switch from traditional leather to microfiber composite basketballs due to their cheaper production costs and pre-broken-in feel. Despite initial skepticism from players, Spalding pushed for the change.

Players complained of the feel, the bounce, and abrasion injuries to their hands. The balls were replaced with traditional balls after less than six months.

Spalding Was the First Official Supplier

brown basketball on the court.
Image Credit: fedorovamaria15/Depositphotos.com.

Basketball is a popular sport worldwide, leading to competition for ball manufacturers. Spalding was the first company to produce basketballs for James Naismith, the founder and creator of basketball as a game. Spalding was the official supplier to the NBA from 1983 to 2021.

Spalding continues to be the official supplier of the WNBA, the EuroLeague, the EuroCup competition, the Liga ACB, and the NBL Australia.

Wilson Became the Supplier in 2021

Wilson basketball ball.
Image Credit: vitaliivitleo/Depositphotos.com.

As the NBA celebrated its 75th anniversary, Wilson became the new official game ball. Continuing the legacy of the eight-paneled orange ball, Wilson not only provides basketballs for the NBA, but also the NCAA and FIFA’s official 3×3 tournaments. 

Teams Are Provided With Official Balls

kobe bryant playing basket ball.
Photo credit: Depositphotos

From practices to play, each NBA team is provided with 72 balls at the beginning of each season, totaling 2160 basketballs.

Balls Are Selected Before Each Game

Official basketball balls Wilson of the match of Ukraine super league.
Image Credit: vitaliivitleo/Depositphotos.com.

The home team is responsible for selecting three game balls from their stable of 72 balls. The home team selects the balls and presents them to the game’s officials, who assess each ball's suitability. If necessary, a ball will be exchanged. One ball is the primary ball, while the remaining two are alternates.

US Basketball Sales

Basketball players outside at sunset.
Image Credit: Depositphotos.com.

Basketball is one of the most accessible sports in the world. FIFA estimates that 450 million people play basketball around the world. Based on sales estimates, approximately 8 million basketballs are sold in the US each year to keep playing the game.

20 NBA Trivia Facts to Bounce Around Your Brain

Larry Bird of Boston Celtics and Karim Abdul Jabar of the Lakers both playing basketball.
Image Credit: Depositphotos.com.

This game has some amazing history!

Author: Todd Rowley

Title: Copywriter

Expertise: social services, transportation, mental health

Todd Rowley is a copywriter and content writer. He’s an unabashed introvert, an only child with a curious spirit, and a lover of the Oxford comma. Originally educated as a Child and Youth Worker - spending more than 25 years in the field - he also dabbled in Religious Education and Communications Studies.