UPDATE: This story is written by Tyler Cook from Alabama NewsCenter. Learn more at: http://alabamanewscenter.com/
Plenty of 3-point shots swished through nets and dunks rattled rims during this year’s NBA Finals, won last week by the Golden State Warriors. Those electrifying plays – and for that matter, every other play in the series – all have something in common.
The basketballs used in the finals and all NBA games were inspected, tested in and distributed from Alexander City, Alabama.
Spalding is one of the major sponsors of the National Basketball Association and the Women’s National Basketball Association. The company supplies the NBA and WNBA with their basketballs. Every practice and game ball the NBA and the WNBA use makes a stop in Alexander City. Spalding is owned by Russell Brands, based in Bowling Green, Ky. Russell Corp., founded by Benjamin Russell in Alexander City, became Russell Brands.
The basketballs start their journey to Alabama from overseas where they are made. They are then sent to the Spalding distribution center in Alexander City. This is where they are tested and inspected to ensure they are playable.
“The inspection procedure takes about one to two weeks before we distribute,” said Jerry Hu, senior director of product development for Spalding.
Product development and marketing teams from Washington, D.C., and from Bowling Green travel to and from Alexander City to help with inspections, he said.
A thorough process
Numerous things are inspected, like each ball’s weight, circumference, air pressure, cosmetics and even its rebound – the height at which the ball bounces from a certain dropping point, Hu said. This is the start of the “breaking in” process. Players do the majority of the breaking in while playing, but the testing gets the ball rolling.
Breaking in a basketball basically means expanding the leather it’s made of and making the ball softer to handle. Dribbling is an important part of the game, so the softer the ball, along with grip, the better the play.
“The balls you see on TV have been played with for about two to three months prior to being used in the games,” Hu says.
A basketball has no choice but to start off as brand new. That’s not what most basketball players want, because playing with a new basketball can be irritating. Spalding purposefully starts to break in the balls before distributing them in bulk orders to the various teams.
Durability testing and mechanically bouncing the balls on a hardwood surface an average of 50 bounces per ball take place toward the end of the testing process at Alexander City. A good measure of durability is an average of 20,000 bounces, Hu said.
The balls are also detailed at the factory, labeling “Spalding” in bold on the leather. Along with the company logo, labels like the NBA logo, dimensions of the ball and NBA team names are lased onto the ball. For basketballs the professionals use, the signature of the commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver, is written onto the ball.
After passing Spalding’s “Perfect Basketball” inspection, the balls are sent to NBA teams for practice in the late summer. Each team receives 72 balls per order with the team name on the ball, said Hu.
Players will use this time to get the balls to reach a playable point before reaching the spotlight, where the balls will be dribbled and shot and rebounded in NBA games.