Basketballs have evolved considerably since the game was invented. Today, technology has made ball performance and quality relatively uniform. This wasn't always the case, as basketballs have undergone many changes and improvements from the original soccer ball that was used for the first two years of the sport's existence.
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For the first two years after Dr. James Naismith invented basketball in 1891, soccer balls were used as the balls. In 1894, the first basketball was manufactured and made of laced leather. The molded version of a basketball was invented in 1948 and for about 50 years almost all basketballs were made of genuine leather. In the early 1990s, the first balls made of high-tech composite leathers began to appear. The NBA switched to a composite leather design in 2006, but the changes lasted only three months because of a barrage of complaints from players.
NBA or professional balls and NCAA or college balls have similarities and differences. NBA balls are made of genuine leather and college balls are made of a composite material. NBA balls are made by Spalding and must be orange, 29-1/2 inches around, and they must weigh 22 oz. The NBA ball must be inflated between 7.5 and 8.5 ounces per square inch. The official basketball of the NCAA tournament is the composite leather Wilson Solution. The NCAA requires balls to be between 29-1/2 and 30 inches around, to weigh between 20 and 22 oz., and to bounce between 49 and 54 inches when dropped from a height of 6 feet.
Women's NBA and women's college balls have basically the same dimensions. Both are required to be 28-1/2 to 29 inches in circumference and weigh 18 to 20 oz. Spalding manufactures WNBA balls and Wilson manufactures the official NCAA ball. The only other difference is that the NCAA adds on a requirement that the ball bounce between 51 and 56 inches when dropped from 6 feet. Both the professional and college models are made of composite leather materials.
Spalding was the first company to produce a basketball for official use. Spalding is the official ball of the NBA and has made the genuine leather NBA models since 1983. Spalding also makes composite balls used in high school and some college play. Wilson, based in Chicago, is the official ball of the NCAA. Wilson models are used by many high schools across the country as well. Molten, a Japanese company, has made the official balls for FIBA international play such as the Olympics for more than 20 years.
The new wave of basketball design will likely feature seamless technology. Currently, panels are placed together to form the ball. Older leather balls have up to eight panels while many of the newer composite designs have only two panels. Composite balls are touted for their ability to control moisture and many newer models have smaller, enhanced pebble designs. The 94Fifty ball, released in April 2013, is the world's first "smart" basketball. The six sensors in the ball's exterior will be able to transmit data within 100 milliseconds to Android devices 90 feet away.