Basketball has been at the heart of American sports for decades. But, believe it or not, the orange balls we have become so used to seeing our favorite teams running up and down the court with wasn’t always this color. In fact, the original basketball actually had a tan-ish, brown shade. With that said, you may be wondering why basketballs are orange today.
In 1957, Tony Hinkle, head basketball coach at Butler University, noticed a problem with the brown basketball—players and fans were having a hard time seeing it. Working with the Spalding Company, Hinkle developed a ball that did not fade and blend in with its surroundings; this new basketball was orange.
The orange basketball was a big hit. By the next year, it was being used at the NCAA finals. Today, basketballs come in a variety of colors for casual playing. However, orange remains the standard color for the basketball used by official teams and leagues. Take a further look below to discover why the original basketball was brown and why today’s ball looks the way it does today.
How the Basketball Became Orange
When James Naismith first invented basketball in 1891 as an assignment tasked to him by a teacher while attending Springfield College, he used soccer balls and peach baskets. By 1894, however, the sport had gained in popularity, and the first basketball was created.
The very first basketball was created out of heavy leather, which was stitched together by hand. Because leather was dark brown, the basketball was brown—and would remain so for the next 63 years. It wasn’t until Tony Hinkle and the Spalding Company created the iconic orange ball, which is the official color still used today.
Hinkle’s desire to change the color of the ball stemmed from the fact that the original color of brown or tan was hard to see during a basketball game in progress. This was not ideal, both for the players who needed to keep track of the ball, and the fans, who had no idea what was going on.
No one is 100% sure why Hinkle and Spalding chose the color orange, but some suggest that because the orange color could be achieved by just changing the color of tan to a lighter tone, it was not only simpler and made the ball easy to see, but was also not as jarring of a change as some other colors might have been.
Other Basketball Colors Besides Orange
While orange is the official color for the NBA’s basketball, there are actually a variety of colors available for basketballs. Some of the many options include:
For most basketball leagues in the United States, from youth leagues to the NBA, there is a requirement that every ball across the league have a uniform standard and look to ensure fairness and to mitigate confusion. Almost all leagues have chosen to make orange the standard color.
However, it would stand to reason that with all the color options out there, and the fact that they are still being made, that many people purchase different colored balls. Whether you are playing by yourself to stay active or playing a game of HORSE with your neighbors or family, there is no rule in place that says you have to play with an orange ball outside of the NBA—and many people choose not to.
Different Colored Balls for Different Leagues
From 1967-1976, the NBA had a competing basketball league named the American Basketball Association (ABA). Eventually, the ABA merged with the NBA because they failed to win many games due largely to the differences in the balls they used. Some of the main differences are as follows:
|ABA Balls||NBA Balls|
|Red, white, and blue colors|
The ABA’s colorful basketballs, while lovely, were much harder to grip—especially when they were new. So, to ensure they could hold onto the ball, most players would use older balls, which would not last as long. However, the merge with the NBA meant that players could take advantage of the higher quality orange basketballs.
Basketball Colors Around the World
Although basketball is a highly popular sport in the US, there are many basketball leagues in other areas of the world, including South America, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Australia.
In many of these countries, such as Australia, their leagues’ official ball looks very similar to the NBA—orange with black webbing between the panels. However, many of the other leagues have basketballs with their own distinctive color designs, including the countries below:
The LIGA ACB, which is the Spanish basketball league, has a very distinctive-looking basketball. Dark orange and black, it has similarities and differences from the ball used in the United States.
While leagues use orange and black balls, the NBA standard ball is orange with thin black ribbing separating the panels. In contrast, the LIGA ACB ball has alternating orange and black panels.
The Philippines and Turkey
In the Philippines, basketball is a highly popular sport. Their semi-professional league, the Philippine Basketball Association, has a distinctive color scheme for their basketball. Their basketballs have orange and white interlocking panels.
In a very similar vein, Turkey has a highly competitive basketball league, Basketbol Super Ligi (or BSL), in which they also use a basketball with orange and white interlocking panels.
In Russia, perhaps more than anywhere else, they take their basketball’s bright colors to another level. Their league, The VTB United League, uses a ball that has alternating blue and orange panels to create a very bright look.
Other Evolutions of the Basketball
Over the years, the basketball has gone through many color changes and designs, but it has also gone through many other updates—all to help improve grip and help basketball players perform to their best ability. Some of the many changes that have occurred over time include:
- Additional panels – The original basketball was made with four panels, while the modern design for the basketball has eight.
- Changes in material – The original basketball was made with real leather, but when the basketball started being factory-made that switched to synthetic leather, and then later to composite leather. Other changes in the material included making the space between the panels out of black rubber.
- How air was pumped into them – The first basketballs were pumped by untying the laces used at the time. Then the balls started being made with tiny holes into which a needle and a pump could be attached. The latest iteration involves a ball with a pump within the ball that pops out as soon as the ball needs more air and is then resealed inside the ball.
- Flat resistance – In 2006, balls started being made with a technology called NeverFlat made with a mixture of large and small air molecules, which did not leak from the ball as quickly. This new technology came with the guarantee that the basketball would not need to be refilled for an entire year.
- Smart balls – For those basketball players who need a breakdown of their skills and areas they need to work on, some balls come with sensors that show your speed and how the ball spins as you dribble and shoot.
The basketball did not always have the bright colors we have come to know as iconic to the game played in hundreds of countries worldwide.
Indeed, the first ball made for the sport was brown and made of four panels of rough leather sewn together by hand. Since then, the changes in the appearance have been numerous—from the different colors available for personal use to the wide variety of color schemes across the leagues of different countries.
Along with the color changes, the design, material, and pumping capabilities of the basketball have evolved over the years to provide every basketball player, from novice to professional, with a quality ball to strengthen their skills.