Basketball is a popular team sport played recreationally and professionally. Many homes even have a basketball hoop out in their yards and driveways. It may seem like an afterthought, but the backboards of both regulation and recreational basketball hoops play a role in the quality of the games. What are basketball backboards actually made of, and what is the best material to use for basketball backboards?
For professional basketball, tempered glass is the best option, but it is also the most expensive. Acrylic is the best option if performance is still very important but you are a bit constrained by the budget. If durability and budget are the main points, steel backboards are your best choice.
If you want to know the why behind these statements and also all the different options that exist in the market, we have broken it down for you. Read on to learn about the different basketball backboard materials and which is the best for you, depending on your necessity.
Backboard materials generally depend upon the manufacturer. Some manufacturers will have more diverse material options than others. This is not necessarily determined by material cost. Specific manufacturers will cater to certain client bases, looking for a specific product.
There are many different types of backboard materials. Many manufacturers do not use each of these materials, as it generally depends on the client base. Niche orders of certain materials can be made. It just depends on the manufacturer. The various materials are as follows:
- Tempered glass
These various materials can make or break a hoop, along with other factors. Understanding each material gives a better insight into what to expect and helps clients better find what they are looking for. Each material brings its own cost-to-benefit ratio that potential clients should consider.
Tempered Glass Backboards
Tempered glass is widely used yet is also the most expensive material for backboards. Tempered glass is the material you will find used in most high schools and colleges, for example. NBA competitions also widely use tempered glass backboards. Due to tempered glass’s wide use by professional organizations, it is de-facto considered the “official” backboard of regulated games.
Tempered glass is at least five times stronger than normal glass, helping perform better bounce rebounds. This material is also much safer than standard glass. If tempered glass shatters, it will simply break into tiny pieces rather than large shards. Tempered glass’s only drawback is that backboards made from the material are less durable compared to backboards made from, say, acrylic or polycarbonate.
Acrylic backboards, produced by Plexiglass, are among the most durable backboard materials on the market. Its medium-rebound performance puts it within 85 percent of tempered glass backboards’ performance ratings. Acrylic may have a slightly lower performance rating than tempered glass, yet the difference is not significant enough to affect its popularity as a material.
Acrylic is also cheaper than tempered glass. Its lower pricing and high-performance rating make acrylic a popular backboard material for clients on a budget. Acrylic and polycarbonate backboards are made from plastic materials, making durability a central focus. It is a cost-effective backboard material that offers almost as much performance as tempered glass while being more durable.
Polycarbonate backboards are five times stronger than acrylic ones. Much like acrylic, polycarbonate backboards are built for durability. Polycarbonate also comes at a good budget price as acrylic backboards do.
While polycarbonate is much stronger than acrylic, it does possess a disadvantage, which for us can be a big drawback. With this type of backboard, you cannot have it into direct UV rays for long periods of time. Otherwise, the color of the material could turn yellow and soften up. If left out in the sun too long, the material can erode. This should only be a problem for backboards used outdoors or in gymnasiums with large windows, but it makes us less keen on the material.
The primary benefits of acrylic and polycarbonate backboards are as follows:
- Low cost
Another drawback of polycarbonate is that this highly durable backboard material has a rebound potential much lower than tempered glass or acrylic backboards.
Steel backboards, much like acrylic and polycarbonate, are very durable. They can last for long amounts of time with steady use. There are drawbacks with steel backboards, however.
Steel backboards tend to be noisy due to the metal material. These backboards are also not allowed in professional basketball circles. The most common use for steel backboards is casual playing, usually seen at parks or other public spaces. If you intend for the backboard to be used by the general public, then steel would be a good choice.
Fiberglass backboards provide one major benefit: a relatively low cost. Beyond that, however, the usefulness of fiberglass backboards is hampered by several issues:
- Fiberglass backboards tend to suffer from low rebound performance, close to the performance of steel backboards.
- The durability of fiberglass backboards is also not great.
Fiberglass backboards are generally intended for playing outdoors yet are much rarer to see by comparison.
Aluminum backboards perform similarly to steel backboards. It is a durable material and cost-effective for clients on a budget. It has its issues, however, and it tends to be similar to steel.
Aluminum backboards are noisy, and the material tends to vibrate more than steel. Due to this, the bounce and rebound performances are not that great. Much like steel, the client must be aware of the following:
- Low bounce and rebound performance
Aluminum backboards primarily provide a low-cost benefit. They are fairly inexpensive, yet the tradeoff is that it lacks better performance compared to the other backboard materials listed so far. Other options perform better with low costs.
Wooden backboards are much rarer to see in today’s market. While wood is a fairly inexpensive material, its lack of availability on the market is due to problems with its longevity.
Wood cannot withstand outdoor weather conditions for long amounts of time. Constant exposure to rain or sunlight will quickly erode the wood. This makes wood a less than profitable venture for most manufacturers. Wood may have a great classic look to it, yet, compared to other backboard materials, wood does not hold up as well.
How to Choose the Best Backboard Material
In order to know which backboard material is best for you to use, you must narrow down how you will be using it and what kind of basketball you will play. Professional basketball is very different from outdoor pickup games. While the materials listed all have a cost-to-benefit ratio, some materials will do better than others depending upon the circumstances of their use.
Basketball is both an indoor and outdoor game. Knowing where you intend to play can help tremendously when deciding on a backboard material. Other factors, such as knowing the type of hoop mount you have and whether the hoop will be used in official games, also help in this situation.
In general, there are at least three factors to take into account when choosing a backboard material. These factors are as follows:
- Hoop location
- Frequency of use
- Game regulations
Knowing where the hoop will be placed and how frequently it will be used are factors that must be accounted for when choosing a backboard material. Disregarding these factors may result in you being less than satisfied with your purchase if not considered correctly.
Backboard Material and Hoop Location
Where the basketball hoop will be placed can determine which backboard material may best suit a potential client. Seeing as basketball is played both indoors and outdoors, factoring in whether the hoop is intended for indoor or outdoor use is important.
Some materials are well suited for both indoor and outdoor use. Other materials, however, may be suited for one environment over the other. In general, there are three materials that are suited for both indoor and outdoor use:
- Tempered glass
These three materials tend to be suited for either indoor or outdoor use. However, it should be noted again, that fiberglass is not very durable, so it would only be recommended in cases where budget is a big driver and you will not be using the hoop very often.
If you intend to put your hoop strictly outdoors, and you are constrained by the budget, consider one of the following materials:
These are cheap materials that can be used outdoors with greater efficiency.
Maximizing Backboard Location
Location is key here. If you purchase a material suited more for outdoors than indoors, this could make the game harder to play. A polycarbonate backboard, for example, while capable of outdoor use, should not be used outside in direct sun extensively. It would be better suited for indoors on a regular basis.
Steel and aluminum, however, would not be suited for indoors. Aside from the fact that most indoor regulations forbid the use of these materials (in official games), the noise both steel and aluminum generate would likely make the game deeply uncomfortable. The noise would reverberate even more loudly indoors. These materials would be better suited for outdoor (unofficial) use due to the noise factor.
If by chance, you have a wooden backboard for your hoop, that material would only work well indoors. As mentioned earlier, wood will not hold up well in constant outdoor conditions such as sunlight or rain. The catch here is that wood is both against official regulation for indoor games and is rare to see on the market. If you do somehow get a wooden backboard, just know it is not suitable for constant outside exposure.
Backboards and Frequency of Use
How frequently your backboard is used also helps determine the best material to get. If you want a backboard for use, say in official high school, college, or professional settings, then one would expect the backboard to be used and abused regularly. If the backboard is for more casual use, say a family hoop in a yard or driveway, then perhaps expect less wear and tear.
Knowing how much use the hoop will get helps the potential buyer factor in the durability of the material they want to purchase. Some backboard materials are more durable than others, of course. In general, the most durable materials tend to be as follows:
These materials listed tend to be more durable than others, capable of withstanding a lot of play. These materials would work best for those who intend to play (officially or unofficially) on a frequent basis.
Backboards and Game Regulations
When choosing a backboard for official basketball games (whether for school or NBA games), the regulations of these organizations have to be taken into account. The NBA, for example, has very specific guidelines as to what backboards are acceptable in official games.
NBA regulations require backboards to be made of specific materials, as well as certain sizes. The NBA requires that all backboards be transparent (see-through material). No solid (opaque) materials can be used. Being that is the case, only certain materials can be used in NBA games:
- Tempered glass
While any of these materials technically can be used in an official capacity, the general one most used is tempered glass. Tempered glass offers the greatest rebound performance, despite it being slightly less durable than acrylic or polycarbonate backboards.
Are NBA Backboards All Tempered Glass?
While tempered glass is technically not the only material allowed, it is the material most frequently used by the NBA. This is primarily due to the high rebound performance of tempered glass backboards. Tempered glass backboards do well in the professional circuit, as it offers the most consistent performance for those who play the game professionally.
The tradeoff with tempered glass is it lacks the durability of acrylic and polycarbonate backboards. Since acrylic and polycarbonate are plastic-based materials (tempered glass is made of glass), they are more capable of long-term wear and tear.
Durability is not as major of an issue for the NBA, however, as their massive budgets afford them the ability to focus on tempered glass. A major sporting organization can obviously afford the cost of less durable materials than an individual playing for fun.
Backboards Best Suited for Professionals
Those playing basketball professionally will likely approach the game differently than those playing casually. Professional basketball players will expect certain specs from their backboard, likely desiring a rigid and consistent bounce effect for better practice and playing. If you are a professional or aspiring professional, then the three best options for a backboard material would be as follows:
- Tempered glass
While tempered glass is the most recommended for professional players, not everyone has an unlimited budget when starting out. Acrylic and polycarbonate offer lower budget alternatives to tempered glass while providing similar rebound performance rates.
While not generally used in professional games, acrylic and polycarbonate backboards can prove to be good substitutes (with better durability) for aspiring professionals on a budget.
Backboards Best Suited for Casual Players
Casual basketball players may approach the game differently than professionals. For casual players, tempered glass, acrylic, and polycarbonate backboards are good. The challenge for casual players is likely to be their budget. Tempered glass is the most expensive material on the market, followed by acrylic and polycarbonates.
Being that these backboard materials are more expensive, looking at good alternative materials would be beneficial. In the case of casual players on a budget, the three main alternative backboard materials would be as follows:
Steel, aluminum, and fiberglass backboards provide decent longevity at reasonable prices. Wooden backboards would also be at a fair price, yet wooden backboards are incredibly rare to find on the open market. Fiberglass backboards are also rare in comparison to steel and aluminum ones. Steel and aluminum, while durable, do not possess the same rebound performances as more expensive materials.
Casual players may not be as concerned with such specs as a pro. Therefore, the casual player may desire a more cost-effective backboard (such as acrylic), while a pro might want the more expensive backboard (tempered glass).
Best Backboards for General Use
Now that the backboard materials and their specs have been listed, one important question still remains: what backboard materials are good for more general use? While this can depend upon the individuals who will be playing on the backboard, there are backboards more suited for general use than others.
For the general public at large, there are three primary backboards suited for varied use. These three have been mentioned before and tend to be as follows:
- Tempered glass
By many accounts, these three materials tend to be best suited for both professional and casual use. These three materials are the most widely available on the market due to their varied uses. Deciding which of these materials best suits you depends on many factors already discussed.
Tempered Glass as the Standard Backboard
Tempered glass, indeed, has become an industry standard. Aside from the fact that professional circuits tend to use tempered glass, casual players also gain several benefits from using this material.
Tempered glass, as mentioned, tends to have the best rebound performance out of the other available materials. This consistent performance is popular among the majority of those who sponsor and play basketball.
While tempered glass backboards are used mainly by professionals, the material is also popular with casual players. A potential buyer should just be aware that tempered glass is the most expensive backboard material on the market and only consider buying if one has the budget for the expense.
Acrylic vs. Polycarbonate Backboards
Acrylic and polycarbonate backboards are composed of similar materials. Both have a plastic base and have similar performance rates. Both are also cheaper than tempered glass. While acrylic and polycarbonate are made of similar materials, they do differ in certain ways.
Polycarbonate backboards, for example, have been marketed as bulletproof material, while acrylic backboards are not advertised in that way. Polycarbonates, however, cannot be left in UV light. Doing so will turn the color of the material yellow and cause it to get brittle over time. If left outdoors for long amounts of time, the longevity of a polycarbonate backboard will only be three to five years before it breaks apart.
Acrylic backboards are not affected by UV light and are much more suitable for long-term outdoor use. The acrylic material is much better suited for outdoor conditions, having general longevity of up to 20 years even when used outdoors extensively.
The key here is knowing where your potential hoop will be placed, whether indoors or outdoors. Acrylic and polycarbonate backboards offer a cheaper and more durable alternative to tempered glass. Determining which material is right for a potential client depends upon where the backboard will be placed, whether indoor or outdoor.
Tempered Glass vs. Acrylic Backboards
Acrylic backboards offer the most cost-effective competition to tempered glass. While tempered glass tends to have an “official” weight behind it, acrylic backboards offer similar results and better durability.
Tempered glass offers the best rebound and consistency, yet its frames are rigid as a result of its glass material. The benefits of tempered glass do come with risks to shattering, as mentioned. Tempered glass offers the following overall benefits:
- Stable bounce effects
- Stable and rigid frame
Due to it being more rigid, tempered glass can shatter eventually (if used excessively over time). Acrylic backboards, made from plastics, do not present a shatter risk. The tradeoff here comes from the bounce effect of each design.
Tempered glass offers a better bounce compared to acrylic backboards. While acrylic backboards cannot shatter, their plastic material will bend and dampen over time.
Tempered Glass vs. Polycarbonate Backboards
Tempered glass provides far more overall benefits compared to polycarbonate backboards. Polycarbonate backboards perform similarly to acrylic backboards at similar prices. Polycarbonates, as mentioned, come with severe drawbacks compared to both acrylic and tempered glass backboards.
Polycarbonate backboards are only useful indoors (as they cannot have prolonged contact with UV rays). Tempered glass offers better overall performance than polycarbonates and can be used both indoors and outdoors without the risk of deterioration. Being that is the case, it is understandable why individuals and organizations may lean toward tempered glass backboards overall.
Polycarbonates are cheaper than tempered glass backboards. Aside from that, it offers little advantages over acrylics or tempered glass. Due to its deficiencies in remaining outdoors, some manufacturers hesitate to sell backboard models with polycarbonate material.
Overall, polycarbonate backboards, compared to tempered glass, offer the following deficiencies:
- No prolonged outdoor exposure
- Bending and dampening of the material
Knowing the drawbacks of polycarbonate backboards is important. The better a client is informed on what a product offers, the better satisfaction they will likely have.
Deciding the Best Backboard Material for You
While it is easy to boil products such as basketball hoop backboards down to general statistics, knowing what the individual client needs and personalizing that need is important as well. At this point, the best backboards for individual and organizational use can be broken down into three specific materials:
- Tempered glass
According to the overall market trend, tempered glass and acrylic backboards offer the most for potential clients. The differences between the two materials having been established, the choice now remains in the realm of budgets. If budget is the real constrain, then steel comes into the picture as well, but it is only suitable for exterior used as we explained before.
Once a client knows what their budget is, they can make better decisions about which material will best suit them. The materials chosen do make a difference in the quality of performance. Tempered glass offers advantages to acrylic backboards. Acrylics, however, can yield similar performance rates compared to tempered glass and at a lower price. And steel, while having much lower performance, will be much more durable and come within a lower tag price.
The best backboard material likely depends upon the client and their circumstances. Tempered glass and acrylic backboards offer the best advantages for the general consumer and organization and steel backboards offer the best durability for their price. There will be certain clients that may want to be catered to with specific needs from time to time, but the overall trends are fairly clear. Knowing your needs and budget will make one a more informed basketball hoop owner.
Having a full grasp of other materials, such as polycarbonate or fiberglass, is also helpful in making an informed purchase. Getting to know your specific needs helps as well. Some folks may only play casually. Others may want a backboard for a public park, some for gyms and arenas. Having a wide understanding of what benefits the backboard materials offer at their pricing will give you a better footing when choosing.
Backboard materials for basketball hoops come in many various materials. Many of the materials mentioned have different cost-to-benefit ratios compared to others. The key is knowing which materials show the best potential for professional and casual players. Out of the many materials listed, two tend to stand out the most: tempered glass and acrylic.
While tempered glass and acrylic backboards do yield the most potential, other materials such as polycarbonates, steel, aluminum, and fiberglass offer a good solution depending on your specific circumstances. The key here is understanding the materials and how exactly you will use your backboard. Different clients bring different expectations, and no individual can be lumped as a statistic at the moment of purchase.