I still remember the first, high-quality basketball I got from my parents. It was a classic orange Spalding with synthetic leather panels - I absolutely loved that ball.
I played with it for years until all the leather panels fell off and there was literally no grip left. I really couldn't dribble the ball anymore and nobody could make a shot, except me:-) It was a sad day when I finally had to throw it away.
Since then, I have been through countless balls and learned a lot about the perfect outdoor basketball. Today, I want to share what I learned, and help you pick the best outdoor basketball for your style of play and budget.
When you pick a basketball there are a lot of different factors you want to keep in mind:
Feel is everything in basketball. It's what allows you to break ankles as you cross over and it's what gives you soft touch from the three-point line. A quality outdoor basketball gives you an indoor feel with a tacky synthetic cover that can hold up to the elements.
The traditional outdoor rubber ball, complete with grippy dimples, tends to get slippery with a little bit of dust or the dimples wear away quickly. You won't be snapping accurate passes with a ball like that anytime soon.
Cheap outdoor basketballs tend to deflate when the temperature drops. There's nothing worse than losing the dribble or getting stripped because the ball doesn't bounce right. While all outdoor balls will deflate a little bit when atmospheric pressure drops, a good outdoor ball will deflate much less. And, deflation is a big deal.
The outdoor environment is much less forgiving than the indoor environment. Dirt, rocks, moisture, metal backboards and metal nets can really take a toll on a ball. You don't want to be running to the store every few weeks to pick up a new one. And, you want your ball to break in over time. This gives you the ultimate feel on the ball, something you want to last. When you have an intimate relationship with the ball, nothing can stop you out on the court.
Inevitably, the ball will be introduced to water. Whether you love basketball so much you're willing to play through a rainstorm or the ball rolls into a puddle, you're going to have to handle the ball when it's wet.
It's important to know if your ball stands up to the moisture test. Does the ball remain wet after you towel it off? How does the ball handle with a little bit of moisture on it? You want a ball that can stand up to water so you don't have to have a break in play.
Every time the ball bounces on an outdoor court, it wears down just a little bit. Dirt on the court acts like sandpaper, slowly whittling away at your ball. This can have a significant impact on the weight of the ball over time. Cheap outdoor balls wear away quickly, giving you a paper bag feel light as a balloon. You need a ball to retain its weight - a lighter ball will mess with your finely-tuned shooting and mad dribbling skills.
There are a lot of different outdoor basketballs out there; this is just a small selection of the best and most popular ones.
Let's take a closer look:
This ball is great for midday basketball when the sun is high and glare can become an issue. You can really make out the seams and lettering perfectly on this all-black ball during daylight hours.
This is a rubber ball, but is has something called "Soft Grip Technology," which gives the ball good handling. In fact, it's a ball many can palm. This means the ball stands up well to the weather, giving you a good grip in the rain.
You can customize this ball a little bit, too. The neon lettering of the ball, which glows a little bit in the dark so you don't lose it, comes in a few different colors. You don't have to show up to the court with the same ball as everyone else. And, the black color of the ball makes it unique. It's always easy to find it after the game and nobody is about to walk away with your black ball. It's uniqueness protects it.
I feel like this is the best outdoor ball for shooting. In fact, this is an indoor and outdoor ball so it can be used on both courts. It's a great way to save money if you have to buy just one ball.
But, the indoor feel of the soft synthetic cover is really what shooters like to feel in their hands as they release the shot. A good jump shot rolls softly off the fingertips with slow backspin, which requires an artist's touch. The artist's touch isn't possible without the soft, leathery feel of an indoor ball. If you drop bombs, you may want to look into the Spalding NBA Zi/O Basketball.
Another detail I really like about this ball is the deep channels of the seams. These channels make it easy to line the ball up for a J, but it's also extremely helpful for dribbling. Your fingers literally sink into the seams as the ball rolls across your hand so you can grip it and change directions with your dribble instantly.
This ball directly addresses one of my key concerns - inflation. Whether it's cold temperatures or wear-and-tear, your outdoor ball is bound to let you down at some point. But, Spalding put "never flat" technology into this ball, guaranteeing it stays inflated for at least one year without the need for a pump. That's some pretty amazing stuff.
This ball is also an indoor-outdoor ball, but the skin of the ball has hexagons etched into it. This gives the ball a different feel from an indoor ball, which may or may not suit you. The good news is the hex design whisks water away so the grip stays the same through inclement weather.
This ball isn't as soft as the Spalding NBA Zi/O Excel Basketball, but its harder feel really makes the ball durable.
The harder feel of the ball also mitigates abrasion. You can play with this thing everyday for a year, the grip won't grind down, and the ball will maintain its weight.
The Hexagrip is a great outdoor basketball for those who play a lot and want a dependable ball that plays well in almost any conditions.
This ball has just one issue -- it can feel a bit heavy out of the box -- but that's a good thing. This is one of those balls that takes a long time to break in, but when you do break it in, it will treat you like a King of the Court.
This indoor-outdoor ball comes with the standard pebbling and a leather, indoor ball feel. But, out of the box, the ball has a heavy sheen to it, which can make it feel just a bit slippery. That's why you have to break it in.
Regulation NBA basketballs are broken in over a long period of time before they hit the court. In fact, the NBA employs a machine that dribbles a ball thousands of times in order to give the players the right feel.
You'll have to do the same with this ball. After shooting around with it for a few hours, the heavy feel of the ball wears away (along with the slippery sheen) to reveal one of the best feeling outdoor balls on the market.
The Under Armour 495 comes nylon wound to keep its shape. It also has a durable butyl bladder for retaining air. Once you get this ball broken in, it feels like delicious basketball butter in your hands and it's durable. It's the perfect ball for a nice, windless day on the outdoor court.
This ball is plug-and-play, ready to hit the court straight out of the box. Yes, it is a rubber ball, but it is a great option if you are looking for an affordable outdoor ball. The ball comes in a lot of different sizes so it can be enjoyed by any skill level.
The most unique thing about this ball is the deep pebbling. The pebbles on most rubber balls are weak. The pebbling on this Basketball is deep and strong. It is a great ball for cold or rainy weather because the grip on the ball is so intense. It can make cold weather games much more enjoyable.
The seams on the Mikasa BX1000 aren't very deep but the grip of the pebbling makes up the difference. It's a great ball for the outdoor enthusiast looking for a bargain.
This is what I like to call the "economy option". This is the best basic, rubber outdoor basketball on the market. It has everything you really need in an outdoor ball. The pebbling gives you good grip through the weather, the deep seams give you good handles, it's durable to maintain its weight and center of gravity, the rubber is soft enough for a decent feel, and standard coloring makes it easy to see in twilight conditions.
This Spalding is also ready to go right out of the box. It's a great option for someone just starting out or looking to protect the integrity of their more expensive indoor-only basketball.
I believe the best outdoor basketball is the Spalding NBA Zi/O Indoor/Outdoor Basketball. A close second is the Under Armour 495 Indoor/Outdoor Basketball. But, unlike the Under Armour 495, the Spalding takes very little time to break in. It also has deep seams for handling and a great feel off the fingers for shooting. It's the closest you'll get to an indoor feel with an outdoor court in the quickest amount of time.
If you want to save money, you can go for the rubber version of the Spalding. The Spalding NBA Street Basketball is affordable and it comes with basically the same specs. It's just made out of rubber instead of indoor-outdoor synthetic leather.