Best Basketballs

Updated September 2021
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Buying guide for best basketballs

People just starting to learn the game of basketball might feel like they can pick any ball because all basketballs look pretty similar.

While all basketballs have a similar shape, configuration, and official size, there are key differences. Having the right type of basketball will help your gameplay match the court conditions. Balls made of certain materials work better on indoor courts than outdoor courts, for example.

If you’re wondering how to choose the right basketball for your needs, our guide contains the key features to look for and our top recommendations. Whether you’re buying a basketball for a child or an adult, we can help you find the right one to match your game.

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Basketball players used a soccer ball in the first few years after Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball. The ball A. G. Spalding created for the game in 1894 had laces like a football.

Key considerations

The easiest way to differentiate basketballs is by size, materials, and color.


There are a few different sizes available. You want to match the correct size ball to the player who will be using it.

  • 7: A size 7 ball has a circumference of 29.5 inches. It’s used in men’s high school and college leagues, international leagues, and the NBA.

  • 6: A size 6 ball has a circumference of 28.5 inches. It’s used in women’s professional, college, and high school leagues, as well as youth boys’ leagues (ages 9 to 12).

  • 5: A size 5 ball has a circumference of 27.5 inches. It’s commonly used by children up to age 8.

  • Mini: A mini basketball can have a circumference up to 27.5 inches. It isn’t designed for league play. Many of these balls have a rubber cover, which means kids can play with them anywhere. Mini basketballs printed with team logos are often sold as souvenirs.

Materials and layers

A basketball has two or three layers, depending on the type of cover it has.

  • Bladder: The bladder holds air inside the ball and usually consists of butyl rubber.

  • Winding or twining layer: Wound around the bladder is a thin layer of nylon or polyester thread. This layer gives the ball more shape and structural integrity. Basketballs with a rubber cover don’t require a winding layer.

  • Cover: The outer surface of the ball may be rubber, leather, or synthetic. In leather or synthetic balls, the cover consists of two pieces.
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Did you know?
Maintaining a basketball’s proper air pressure will help it last longer. It will also deliver a truer bounce-back effect when dribbling.

Basketball features


  • Rubber: Tough, durable rubber basketballs work best on outdoor cement courts. You can use a rubber ball indoors, but it has more bounce than leather or synthetic basketballs, which means that a shot that hits the rim has less chance of going into the basket.

  • Leather: Leather basketballs are only for use on indoor courts. Professional and college leagues use leather basketballs. The leather provides a good grip and feel for the players, but these balls don’t hold up well when exposed to weather or rough concrete courts. These basketballs are the most expensive.

  • Synthetic: Synthetic basketballs work either indoors or outdoors. These balls provide a high level of durability like rubber, but they also have a good grip and feel like leather. Repeated use on cement courts can mar the cover on synthetic balls, however.


The traditional color for a basketball is a dark or burnt orange, almost brown. Most official basketballs are this color, but some leagues use variations. Official international rules basketballs have orange/brown panels along with some light-colored panels. The now-defunct professional ABA basketball league used basketballs with red, white, and blue panels.

For recreational use, basketballs are available in almost any color pattern you could want. Balls with fun designs or colors may encourage some younger players to be more excited about practicing.

Training basketballs

Training basketballs are available in a few different configurations. These balls aren’t appropriate for official game play, but they can help players develop particular skills.

  • Shooting position basketballs: A shooter’s basketball has markings on it that help players position their hands properly on the ball. With enough practice, players should be able to repeat this hand placement on official basketballs.

  • Smart basketballs: Some balls contain chips that track the movement of the ball. During a practice session, the ball tracks the percentage of completed shots, among other statistics. Smart basketballs send the data wirelessly to a smartphone, where you can use an app to view it.

  • Weighted basketballs: These are commonly used for training. A weighted ball is two to four times heavier than a standard ball, which helps players develop greater upper body strength for ball handling and shooting.

Basketball prices

Inexpensive: The least expensive basketballs cost about $10 to $25. These are typically made of rubber and may have various colors or patterns. Most mini balls are in this price range, too.

Mid-range: These basketballs cost about $25 to $50. This price range contains both rubber and synthetic basketballs of all sizes, as well as some training balls.

Expensive: The priciest basketballs cost about $50 to $100. Balls that cost $150 or $200 are usually leather official balls for NBA, international, or college league play.


  • Stick to a budget. Don’t feel like you need to purchase a $100 leather basketball for a child who’s just learning to play. All official basketballs have the same weight and size, so a cheaper ball is just fine for learning.

  • Inflate the basketball to the proper psi. For the proper bounce, a basketball needs to be inflated to about seven to nine pounds per square inch. The ball should have its recommended air pressure printed near the valve hole.

  • Inflate the basketball slowly. Don’t use a powerful air pump on the basketball. A quick, powerful introduction of air could rupture the internal bladder. Inflating the ball slowly and steadily will help the ball last longer.

  • Don’t use an indoor ball outdoors. If you have a leather ball, don’t play with it on an outdoor cement court. The rough surface will damage the leather cover and ruin the ball.

  • Store the ball at a consistent temperature. Try to store your basketball in an area that doesn’t experience extreme temperature swings. This will help the ball last longer.

  • Clean the ball properly. You can wipe off mud or dirt with a damp cloth, but don’t dunk a basketball in water or it could become waterlogged.

Other products we considered

With hundreds of different basketballs available, we have a few additional suggestions that didn’t make our top picks. Young players who are fans of specific NBA players or teams will love the Spalding NBA Player Basketball, printed with a photo of a specific player and his NBA team logo. If you’d rather collect the autographs of your favorite players, try the Wilson Mini NCAA Autograph Basketball. It has two orange panels and six white panels that allow you to clearly see the signed names. For players who can’t find enough hours of daylight to practice, the GlowCity Basketball is a fun option. With two bright LEDs built into it, the glowing basketball is easy to see at night.

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Official professional, high school, and college basketballs are different sizes for men and women.


Q. What are the benefits of using a smaller ball for women and youth players?

A. Basketballs that are smaller than standard size are easier to handle for players with smaller hands. It’s also easier for younger players to dribble and shoot a smaller and lighter ball when learning the game.

Q. Do heavy training basketballs have any real benefits?

A. You’ll find coaches who believe strongly in practicing with heavy basketballs. They’ll use it primarily for ball-handling drills because the player must really snap the wrist to dribble or pass properly. When using a heavy ball for shooting drills, don’t alternate between a heavy and an official ball during practice. It could throw off your shooting technique.

Q. How often do I need to inflate my basketball?

A. Basketballs will naturally lose a little bit of air over time. A basketball that’s used regularly will need to be inflated more often. With regular use a few days per week, you should check the air pressure once a week. It might need to be inflated once or twice per month. An older ball may need to be inflated each time you use it.

Q. How does the size of a basketball compare to the size of the hoop?

A. When your favorite basketball team is trying to make a big free throw late in the game, the hoop may seem small compared to the basketball. In reality, the opening is almost twice the diameter of the ball. The diameter of a standard-size basketball is about 9.5 inches, while the hoop diameter is about 18 inches. Basketballs designed for women and youth have a diameter of about 9.2 inches.

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