Basketballs are categorized into three classifications: indoor balls, outdoor balls, and hybrids (both indoor and outdoor). These designations aren’t without reason. There are significant differences between the basketballs making their intended uses important.
While you, theoretically, can use any basketball on any court, it isn’t a great idea to use an indoor basketball on an outdoor court. Outdoor courts, even plastic ones, are rougher than treated indoor flooring so they can damage the softer, less durable indoor basketballs. If you want your indoor basketball to last a long time, make sure you only use it indoors to avoid damage.
Indoor Basketballs vs. Outdoor Basketballs
Both basketballs are used for the same purpose and, at a glance, look identical. However, when you start to examine the types of basketballs you’ll begin to notice subtle differences in their design. You’ll also notice differences in how they perform on the court and the differences in their price, too.
The most significant difference between an indoor and outdoor basketball—and the main reason why you shouldn’t use an indoor ball on an outdoor cour—is the cover material used for each. Indoor basketballs (Reviewed by Sportten.com) are usually made from soft genuine leather while outdoor balls are made from a composite or synthetic leather or rubber.
Genuine Leather Basketballs
Full-grain leather holds up quite well when used solely on an indoor court. However, it’s too soft to use on a rough outdoor court. If it is used on one the leather can scuff and tear quickly. This will cause the ball to peel which will affect how it bounces as well as the grip. This not only leads to poor ball handling during a game but also shortens the lifespan of the ball costing your more money in the long run.
While this type of damage is more often attributed to outdoor courts made of asphalt or concrete, plastic outdoor courts may still do damage to an indoor ball due to the debris and dirt naturally found on outdoor courts as well as natural elements like moisture. These factors of an outdoor court can damage the exterior material causing it to break down sooner than it would if it were only used indoors.
Composite Leather Basketballs
Synthetic leather balls sometimes referred to as composite leather balls, are made with a synthetic leather covering that is made of a mixture of plastic and leather. It looks similar to the genuine leather and feels like it, too. However, this type of material is more durable than genuine leather so it can withstand the rougher outdoor courts. Since it’s durable but still feels firm and soft like indoor basketballs it’s used frequently for hybrid basketballs.
The most durable material and the one that is used primarily for outdoor basketballs is rubber. This is a strong material that can withstand harsh outdoor elements and rough, uneven courts. Unlike genuine leather basketballs, a rubber basketball will never have to be broken in to properly perform in a game since it’s ready to go immediately after being made. Since this is mainly used outdoors, it can be harder to handle on an indoor court since its bounce is slightly stronger and can be less predictable than composite or genuine leather balls.
Another difference worth noting between indoor and outdoor basketballs is the bounce or flexibility of the balls. As mentioned above, outdoor basketballs are harder than indoor ones thanks to their more durable nature. This harder design causes the balls to bounce too much when used on an indoor court leading to a lack of control during a game.
On the other hand, indoor basketballs are too stiff in their design and won’t bounce well on an outdoor court because of that. Most people who have used an indoor ball outdoors will note that the court affects the ball so much that it feels flat an awkward while in use. Couple this with genuine leather’s fragile nature and you can see why indoor balls should solely be used as their classification suggests.
Durability is the biggest difference that people take into account when deciding between an indoor and outdoor basketball. Outdoor balls are far more durable and will last a lot longer when frequently using them for games and practice on an outdoor plastic court. However, indoor balls won’t last as long as they should if you use them on that same court. If you use an indoor basketball on an outdoor plastic court, you run the risk of damaging the ball and shortening its lifespan. This will cost you money since you’ll need to replace a damaged ball if you’re looking to continue playing the game.
While this doesn’t have anything to do with look or performance, indoor and outdoor basketballs also differ in terms of their retail price. Genuine leather basketballs can cost anywhere from around $40 on the low end and as much as around $150 on the high end. Outdoor rubber basketballs can be found in stores for under $20 in some cases. This is a significant difference that is attributed to the cost of the raw materials used to produce each basketball.
As briefly mentioned above, this cost difference comes into play when you think about replacing damaged basketballs. If you decide to use your indoor basketball on an outdoor plastic court or any type of outdoor court, you run the risk of damaging the ball. If you damage the ball and still want to play basketball you’ll have to replace it. With the high cost of genuine leather basketballs, this may be something to take into consideration before deciding how to use your ball.
Plastic Outdoor Basketball Courts
When most people think about outdoor basketball courts they think about their local playground or a typical basketball hoop set up in a driveway. These courts have asphalt or concrete flooring that can really do damage to a genuine leather indoor basketball. However, these aren’t the only type of outdoor basketball courts. There are also modular basketball courts that are made of interlocking plastic tiles that are quite durable. They’re smoother than typical asphalt or concrete while remaining strong enough to withstand constant use.
Their gentler texture makes some people think that they can use their indoor basketball on an outdoor plastic court without damaging it. This isn’t necessarily the truth. Yes, this type of court will be gentler on your indoor basketball when compared to other outdoor courts but the outdoor environment can do damage to the ball despite the court’s soft texture. Rain (moisture of any kind) can damage the leather as can dirt, gravel, and similar debris that can be found on a plastic outdoor court. So even though plastic courts aren’t as bad as asphalt or concrete, outdoor elements can deteriorate your indoor basketball and shorten its lifespan substantially.
In the end, it’s always best to use an indoor basketball solely on indoor courts and choose an outdoor ball for those times you want to play a game outside. The balls will last longer and you’ll get the best performance out of each when they’re used the way they were intended to be used.