What Makes a Great Outdoor Basketball?
When engaged in a heated battle on the court you have several things to worry about. Should I take this shot? Is my teammate open? Can I thread the needle on this pass? Often, these decisions have to be made in a split second. One thing that no basketball player wants to worry about is the consistency and quality of the basketball. You should NEVER have to be thinking about whether a ball will bounce consistently, or if it will be difficult to handle. Having a great basketball can help you focus on what matters…the game!
My Testing Process
Why Most Basketball Reviews Suck
If you are like me, you’ve often used Google Search to try to find reviews on basketball-related products you’re interested in buying. I’m also guessing that, like me, you’ve been disappointed to find that most of these reviews on other websites are vague and seem to simply rehash information that you can find on Amazon.
The reason for this is that those other basketball review websites have not actually purchased the products they are reviewing. They simply look up reviews and information on Amazon and publish this in their own words.
The Hoops Fiend Difference
At Hoops Fiend I pride myself in thoroughly testing the basketballs that I review. That means I’ve forked over my own money to purchase these basketballs and actually use them for games and shooting sessions. This allows me to develop a personal opinion of each basketball and gives me a deeper understanding of the strengths and weaknesses that each basketball brings to the table.
Testing Each Basketball
When receiving a basketball for review, I first dribble the basketball to see how consistent the ball bounces. I’ve found that many outdoor basketballs lack in dribble consistency and this often leads to “off” bounces that make it hard to handle the basketball with confidence. During the dribbling session, I also pay close attention to the feel of each basketball and evaluate the outer cover for things like cushion, grip, and overall feel.
Next, I take the basketball outdoors (or indoors for indoor basketballs) and shoot with them. I want a basketball that feels like a natural extension of my hands when I’m in shooting form. If the basketball feels too firm then it is difficult to feel the basketball come off of my fingertips. Likewise, if the basketball is too soft then it may feel sticky (especially true for some indoor basketballs). Balance is key when it comes to the feel of a basketball.
Over time I am able to take inventory of the durability of each basketball. This factor obviously takes time as I can’t spend all hours of the day beating up a basketball to see how it wears. However, after several months the wear process of each basketball happens naturally as they get used by me in rotation for practice or games.
Top 5 Outdoor Basketballs (In order from #1 to #5)
I recognize how important it is to have the best outdoor basketball for players who expect a top quality product. Because of this, I have listed below the top 5 outdoor basketballs. While we all have different preferences, I feel you will find any of the basketballs on our list are worth of being crowned best outdoor basketball.
1. Spalding Replica Game Ball - 4.8/5
Spalding is the most popular basketball brand in the world and for good reason. They have been the official basketball brand for the NBA since 1983, and the official basketball of the Euroleague since 2012. The number one best outdoor basketball from my testing is the Spalding Replica Game Basketball. This basketball provides a softer cover and consistent performance that is unrivaled. Just like the Official NBA Game Ball, the replica version comes with the NBA logo and commissioner’s signature.
- Softest we’ve ever felt on a basketball that is approved to be used outdoors
- Bounce is super consistent giving players confidence in the Spalding Replica’s performance
- Feel is unparalleled for an outdoor basketball
- Reasonably priced compared to other basketballs with inferior performance
2. Molten GM7x Indoor/Outdoor Basketball - 4.8/5
Molten may not be the most well known basketball brand in the USA, but worldwide, Molten is a leader in the space. In fact, Molten is the official basketball of FIBA, aka the International Basketball Federation. During the Olympic Games, Molten basketballs are used exclusively for competition. You'll also see Molten basketballs used for other high profile leagues overseas.
The Molten Gmx7 is the premium indoor/outdoor basketball offered by Molten. My experience with this basketball has been awesome. It has a super durable cover that has a similar feel to a genuine leather basketball. This makes the Gmx7 better suited for advanced basketball players, as this basketball is focused on providing excellent feel with less priority given to grip. When you dribble this ball it has just the right amount of spin while in hand.
Important to note is that I've found this ball to have a 29" circumference, as opposed to the standard 29.5" featured with most men's basketballs. Other than this slight difference in size, I love everything about this basketball.
- It has a feel that resembles a genuine leather basketball that is unlike any other indoor/outdoor basketball (and most indoor basketballs as well)
- Arguably has the best bladder compared to the other basketballs on this list
- Feel is exceptional and is very comfortable in your hand
- Grip is not a priority making this basketball difficult to palm
3. Spalding TF-500 Indoor/Outdoor Basketball - 4.7/5
Coming in a close third is the Spalding TF-500 basketball. The second Spalding in my top 5 basketball list, the TF-500 has some unique features that separate it from the Spalding Replica Game Ball. First, the Spalding TF-500 has a more firm and durable cover than the Spalding Replica. This is a great choice if your top priority is a mix of high quality performance and durability.
- Has a great outer cover that is durable and has lasted years of use
- Bounce is consistent and is a fun basketball to use, and instills confidence
- Continues the Spalding TF legacy, which has a storied tradition in the realm of basketballs
4. Baden Contender Performance Composite Basketball - 4.5/5
Similar to Molten, Baden is not the first name that comes to mind when thinking of basketballs. But don’t let that stop you from realizing the quality of the Contender Basketball. Not only does it have a great feel and consistent bounce, but it also has some features that are exclusive to the Baden brand. The most unique of these features is the stealth valve, meaning this basketball has an inverted air valve (an innie in belly button terms) and keeps the valve from messing up your dribble.
- Comes in a great variety of color ways from standard orange to red, white, and blue
- Stealth valve technology keeps the bounce consistent on this basketball
5. Under Armour 595 Basketball - 4.3/5
Rounding out the top five outdoor basketballs is the Under Armour 595. Under Armour is a new to the game when it comes to basketball manufacturing, but I must say that this basketball is a good effort from them. The cover is very durable, but a bit on the firm side for me. Channel design is standard and makes for a pretty traditional basketball overall. The GripSkin technology touted by Under Armour is underwhelming as this basketball is not grippy, and hard to palm.
- Bounce is consistent and true
- Very durable due to the outer cover, but does become slick over time due to the cover being on the firm side
- A good basketball overall but inferior to other basketballs that rank higher on my list
All Basketballs are NOT Created Equal
We’ve all been there. Having to play a pickup game with a ball that just does not make the grade. It is either too slick or too rubbery, or inconsistent in its bounce. A great basketball has the correct grip balance while maintaining a smooth feel. Do you really think that Billy Hyle or Sidney Dean would play with a sub-par ball? Of course not! Great ballers want to have the best outdoor basketball because this gives them the best opportunity to play their A-game. This is the same for almost every sport. The best performers for a given sport are always playing with the best equipment, because it makes a difference.
The best outside basketballs are almost all made from a composite or synthetic leather material. While genuine leather gives the ultimate feel for a basketball it is not appropriate for outdoor use due to leather’s lack of durability. But there is good news! Today’s composite leather is of great quality and does an amazing job simulating the feel of genuine leather. So good in fact, you may have a difficult time telling a genuine leather basketball from a high quality composite leather basketball.
Things to Consider When Buying a Basketball
1. Cover Material
Genuine leather basketballs were at one point in time much more common than they are today. In fact, only Spalding continues to mass produce a genuine leather basketballs, which is the Official NBA Game Basketball. Genuine leather comes out of the box needing to be broken in through regular play. At first the basketball may feel slick and harder to control than a composite leather basketball. However, if you are patient and are willing to work the genuine leather basketball in over time, then there is no other cover material that can compare. Once at peak performance, the genuine leather basketball will feel nicely cushioned and will last for years and years.
The majority of basketballs available for sale today are made of a composite leather material. Composite leather is a synthetic leather-like material that is cheaper and more versatile than genuine leather. Basketballs that are made of composite leather do not have to be broken in and come out of the box ready to perform at their peak. Higher end composite leather basketballs (like the Wilson Evolution) are indoor only basketballs and are often used in high school and collegiate games. More moderately priced indoor outdoor basketballs are also made of composite leather but are created to be able to take the wear and tear that occurs on the courts.
Rubber is the cheapest material that is still used to make basketballs today. Basketballs made of rubber are very durable on hard surfaces making it a good option for outdoor use. The weakness of leather basketballs is that they often feel hard and generally have a poor grip. Because of this we recommend rubber basketballs for children who just learning the game or for homes with a hoop over a gravel driveway.
Whether a player desires a basketball with an ultra soft cover, a sticky grip, or one that works to mimic the unique feel of a genuine leather basketball is based on personal preference.
29.5″ Regulation Size - Men's
For adults and boys who are in their teenage years, a standard 29.5″ basketball will be the best choice. This is the regulation sized basketball that is used for men’s basketball games from high school all the way to the NBA. Due to the increased size of the regulation basketball it also weighs slightly more than the other sized basketballs.
If you are looking to buy a basketball for a lady baller or a youngster, then take a look at the 28.5″ sized basketballs. With only one inch difference in circumference the difference between this basketball and the regulation size will be hard to differentiate by many. Tip: If you have a high school aged daughter having her practice with the regulation size basketball at home will make the 28.5″ used during the games feel like shooting fish in a bucket!
This sized basketball is meant to be used by children who are growing up and learning the fundamentals of basketball. Great for elementary aged boys and girls the youth basketball can work well in both full sized rims and some smaller mini hoop rims. Having a smaller basketball will help children develop proper shooting and dribbling mechanics.
The price of each basketball is likely to vary due to several factors that we have listed throughout this guide. The most important factor on basketball price is the cover material. Genuine leather basketballs are the most expensive (~$140). Composite leather basketball prices can vary depending on whether it is an indoor only basketball (+$50) or an indoor/outdoor basketball ($20-$50). Rubber basketballs are the cheapest and can be found pretty easily for somewhere between $10 and $15.
When looking at which basketball to buy overall performance is an important consideration. Here at Hoops Fiend we review basketballs on a scale of 1 to 5 in several categories including:
When dribbling the basketball does the ball perform consistently, or does it have off center bounces making it hard to control? Basketballs with off-center bounces are frustrating to use and often end up in the closet or the trash.
This seems to be a popular feature for those wanting to be able to palm a basketball. Grip is essentially a measure of how easily a basketball is to clutch or hold. A proper amount of grip allows for the basketball to be controlled during, but not so much grip that it loses feel.
Similar to grip, but different. When using the basketball does it feel connected to your hands making dribbling and control effortless? A basketball with good feel has a good balance between cushion and stability. Feel is the most important factor for dribbling in basketball performance.
How long is the basketball likely to last under normal playing conditions. Generally, you should expect an indoor/outdoor basketball to last a couple years with normal play. We do not measure indoor basketballs and indoor/outdoor basketballs the same in this regard as their playing purposes are different.
When including features and material quality does the basketball give a good bang for your buck. Some basketballs out there charge a premium price but have nothing special to offer. While other high performing basketballs may be a steal.
Now that you know how we rate each basketball we review be sure to see our basketball reviews to find out how each basketball stacks up against the competition.
How to Find the Best Outdoor Basketball for You
There are literally hundreds of outdoor basketballs to choose from. With so much selection a decision can be difficult. You have to think about what matters to you including cost, brand, size, color, feel, and grip. Do not forget to consider how you plan to use the basketball and your own basketball related goals.
With our interactive chart you will find valuable information regarding each basketball we have listed. Make sure to look at each ball and its characteristics to make a decision that meets your balling needs. Instead of having someone else tell you what ball to buy, check out the list we have compiled and use the data to decide which is the best outdoor basketball for you!