Whether playing basketball in school, out on the street or as part of the professional game, there’s some essential equipment needed. Probably the most important are the hoop to shoot into, the second most important are the court markings and the third most important is, of course, the basketball itself.
As it turns out, there isn’t just one type of ball for basketball players to use. There are ones best suited to indoor courts and others for outdoor courts. The most noticeable change is the use of composite leather materials for basketballs played outdoors and genuine leather ones for strictly indoor play.
A synthetic or composite material on the ball allows players to be flexible; play ball indoors on a court when called for, but also hit the open public court for a close matchup without having to worry whether a leather ball will stand up to the wear and tear typical of use on outdoor courts. Be aware though that composite materials wear down with outdoor play and begin to be slippery in wet conditions. A minor issue both, but good to be aware of nonetheless.
One size ball doesn’t suit all players either. Balls for shooting hoops come in a variety of sizes to suit children, women, and men. Typically, new players start with one type of ball and move up in grades as they become more confident and competent. Dealing with a larger ball at the outset is tougher, so many people begin with a smaller one to get used to it at the beginning.
Here we take a look at the Best 5 Outdoor Basketballs:
1. Spalding NBA Zi/O Indoor/Outdoor Basketball
The Spalding NBA Zi/O Indoor/Outdoor Basketball is a quality product produced in the single 29.5-inch size seven that matches the regulation ball size. The Zi-O composite material has a leather look and feel, but is durable to be used on outside courts that are rougher on the ball surface than the indoor ones. The surface is a dimpled one to give it the proper feeling when running the fingers over it. It is decorated with the Spalding logo and the “Indoor Outdoor NBA Zi-O” logo too.
Given that the ball is made of a composite, it is acceptable for use both on indoor and outdoor courts alike. The same tactile spongy feeling from the surface and foam backing ensures that the ball doesn’t slip out of the hands when grabbing it and it’s also easier to catch it on short or long passes too.
The same strict specifications for an NBA regulation ball are adhered to here which is ideal for anyone who either wants something close to the real thing or who is practicing with college ball to reach the major-league ball. The ball even weighs the same to ensure players react the same way as they would a basketball when playing the game in the NBA. As a result of the close adherence to NBA balls specifications, the bounce is predictable and consistent during play which is essential.
The product reviewed only comes in the single size. For people looking for smaller basketball sizes, several of the other products reviewed below offer other sizes too.
Made by Spalding, the largest global producer of basketballs.
2. Spalding NBA Tack Soft Basketball
The Spalding NBA Tack Soft Basketball is a dark orange ball with the black Spalding logo scrawled across it. Below this logo is the “Indoor Outdoor NBA Tack-Soft” golden logo which incorporates the NBA logo within it. The product is available in both 28.5-inch size 6 Intermediate version and 29.5-inch Official size version. Juniors and women with smaller hands may find the smaller Intermediate ball better suited to their hand size whereas players looking only to use the regulation size can opt for the Official size ball.
The use of the synthetic cover on the ball allows it to be used on indoor and outdoor courts without any worries about degrading the leather. The outside material of the ball is made from premium polyurethane composite to cover it. The material is a grippy one that makes it easier to handle it, shoot it and catch it when passed to a player. The pattern on the composite appears like leather and helps the fingertips grip the ball even when only initially catching the edge of it.
For players who wish to practice shooting for the hoop, the additional grip is helpful for practice sessions due to the composite material covering the ball. With the Official size, the weight also matches regulation ones too. It does take the time to break the ball in, so later it plays better than it does initially. It does tend to let out air periodically though and benefits from being pumped up every couple of weeks to keep it fully inflated.
3. Wilson Evolution Indoor Game Basketball
The Wilson Evolution Indoor Game Basketball is a different kind of composite ball for indoor play. It uses a microfiber composite that aims to resemble leather while not wearing down in the same manner. The core of the ball has ample cushioning to make it softer to touch when catching it as it’s flying through the air towards the player. The more elastic inner core comprising butyl rubber and a type of spongy rubber isn’t to everyone’s liking but is sensible considering that the Evolution ball is available in two smaller sizes for younger players and women.
There are channels around the ball that serve to wick built-up moisture away from the surface to evaporate away without affecting all-important ball grip. The pebbled, mottled surface has a leather appearance to it too.
The product is officially approved for use by NFHS and the NCAA. It is available in the Official size seven 29.5-inch, Intermediate size six28.5-inch, and Youth size five too. The Evolution ball is the number one basketball used by American High Schools in their athletics programs today.
The ball must be broken in to appreciate its buttery smooth feel during use. Before breaking in the ball, it feels entirely different to when it has been broken in. It takes weeks or months to complete the breaking in the process depending on how often the basketball is played with.
It is necessary to use a pump to re-inflate the ball every few weeks. It arrives inflated but usually needs a top-up depending on how long it has been sitting on the retailer’s shelf before purchase.
The ball is mostly intended for indoor use. It is possible to play with the Evolution ball outside, but it will undoubtedly speed up the wear on the ball’s surface causing it to need replacing sooner.
4. Spalding Rookie Gear Indoor/Outdoor Basketball
The Spalding Rookie Gear Indoor/Outdoor Basketball is an impressive ball with multiple color options. It comes in either a traditional orange cover or a multi-colored version that uses green, yellow, orange, and blue in each section of the ball cover. One advantage that the rainbow-colored ball has over the standard orange one is that it’s easier to find it in a collection of other basketballs where it’s difficult to know whose ball is whose. Younger girls also tend to prefer the more colorful basketball over the orange one and sometimes adds to their street cred too.
The composite leather cover has black channels to absorb moisture and a dimpled appearance throughout. It is a 27.5-inch size suitable for Youth players who need a smaller, lighter ball while they have smaller hands to play with.
The durable cover enables the ball to be played both indoors and outdoors without issues. The Youth size makes it easier to catch and shoot the ball during practice and in real games before moving up to a heavier, larger ball later when a bit older. The longer the ball is used, the slicker it becomes.
Like most basketballs, it’s necessary to re-inflate the ball from time to time to keep it at the properly inflated level. The product makes a good gift for a young player showing initial interest in a game of hoops in the front driveway or with friends. The flexibility of being able to play the ball both indoors and outdoors supports using it in various locations too.
5. Wilson NCAA Replica Game Basketball, Pink, 28.5-Inch
The Wilson NCAA Replica Game Basketball is a neat ball when wanting to use something that looks a bit different. The pink cover is made from a composite leather that provides improved grip for both indoor and outdoor play. It is a size six 28.5-inch ball that is ideal for younger players and women who find the Official size seven ball too much to handle.
The design of the product replicates the Official NCAA ball used in league games. The fact that Wilson supplies the balls used in the NCAA for both men and women is quite relevant here because the company knows what it’s talking about.
Below the cover which absorbs moisture to retain its grippy feeling, the core is supported by a butyl rubber core for strength and a spongy rubber to make it feel softer. The pebbled accent to the cover also helps to catch and to release the ball because it’s softer to hold and has a comfortable surface grip without being too sticky to the touch either.
We suggest the ball is ideal for boys and girls over 9, and women who like to try their hand at hoops with the boys/men. The ball will require re-inflating from time to time all these quality make it best outdoor basketball.
How to select the Best outdoor basketball
Any semi-experienced or experienced ball players can tell you that the basketball matters just as much as the quality of a basketball court. Uneven ball covers affect the bounce then dribbling forward towards the hoop. Insufficient or an unpredictable bounce causes players to lose control of the ball because it creates hesitation.
The materials also matter when playing on either an outdoor or indoor court that responds differently to synthetic and leather covers over the basketball. The stickiness on the cover’s surface changes the amount of grip necessary to hold the ball, bounce it, and move around the court. Too much stickiness is just as much of a problem one that’s slippery. The inner core also changes from ball design to ball design with different products and ball manufacturers taking a varied approach to the basketballs in their product range.
Here we delve in further to the key aspects of what goes into a basketball and what to look out for when choosing your next one.
The cover of the ball is either a genuine leather, a composite leather or rubber surface type.
The genuine leather basketballs were the original form and used for many years. Spalding, the official producer of all NBA regulation balls, still produces the leather one for the NBA. Leather balls require a significant period of breaking in to get them to soften and become more controllable. Initially, the leather surface is too slick to be easily gripped and slips out of hand more often until the surface becomes more weathered.
Synthetic or composite leather balls are designed to appear as leather but are made from a variety of materials including a microfiber composite and other types. The benefits of a composite leather basketball include better grip, less requirement to break-in the ball before professional use, affordability, multi-colored sections, and a consistent feel all around the ball. These types of balls are often foam backed to offer a softer feel which is better suited to younger players and women who don’t want a particularly hard ball flying at their face.
The rubber basketball remains the cheapest and is still in use. The advantage of rubber balls is their durability on harder courts which makes them particularly useful on unpredictable outdoor courts. Rubber balls are softer than leather ones and are easier to keep hold of. With new or younger players, a rubber basketball is often a good choice.
Outside of the cover material, the cover is classed as matching the expected feel of genuine leather, having a stickier grip than other balls, or offering a softer than usual feel. It is up to the individual to make an appropriate selection in this regard.
There are three main sizes of basketball to choose from:
1. The 29.5-inch Official (or regulation) size is the same size as used in the NBA. It is larger and heavier than the smaller alternatives. High School basketball for men is played with a 29.5-inch ball.
2. The 28.5-inch Intermediate ball is mostly used by women who need a lighter, smaller ball to suit their smaller hand size. Youth players moving up from the smaller 27.5-inch Youth size may also play with the 28.5-inch size when they still feel like the above Official size is still too big for them to play with.
3. Lastly, the 27.5-inch Youth ball is intended for children who are age 9 and over. Usually, by age 12, the youngster has moved up at least one level to either the 28.5-inch or 29.5-inch sized ball. The smaller ball makes it less difficult to learn to dribble it, pass it and shoot at the hoop.
Price varies from as little as $15 for small rubber basketballs up to $60+ for Official sized ones.
There are a few factors that affect performance the most.
The bounce when dribbling the down the court is important. An inconsistent bounce gets in the way of continuing to dribble the ball. When it bounces up to a different height than expected and at an unanticipated speed, it throws off the player. Some balls sadly have bounces that are off-center and cause confusion for players.
The grip type varies from ball to ball. Some grips are stickier than others. It depends on what the player is used to when playing games to determine their personal comfort level with the grip.
A lighter or firmer touch is needed when dribbling to maintain good ball control. A ball that has the right amount of internal cushioning and predictable surface response helps the ball player get the most performance out of it.
Basketballs vary in durability depending on the quality of the materials used to make the inner core, the ball cover, and its suitability to the surface the ball is being played on. Indoor balls should not be played on outside courts unless they’re made to do so. Otherwise, their cover will deteriorate more rapidly. Cheaper balls may have primary inner core materials that don’t stand up to prolonged game use, and multiple games played per week over many months.
The value one receives formal basketball is not just a matter of price. Inexpensive balls are often made from less durable materials which simply don’t last as long as professional balls do. Therefore, when measuring value by the useful life of the ball when compared to its price, this is one indication of value. Predictable ball behavior is a game changer in the mix here too; unpredictable ball responses in-game because it’s just too low-quality offers little real value.
The best outdoor basketball is a matter for debate. Certainly, a good indoor ball doesn’t necessary make for an effective outdoor one. Court conditions vary with outdoors playing, and a ball needs to have a synthetic leather or rubber surface to stay durable enough to last. The tougher the play, the more frequently the ball needs to be re-inflated too. Using the right ball on the court is a critical factor when selecting a suitable product. Choose well and enjoy hundreds of hours of competitive games against worthy competitors with the best outdoor basketball.