Week 6

The Top 7 Best Outdoor Basketballs

I still remember my first high-quality basketball. It was a classic Spalding with synthetic leather panels – I absolutely loved that ball!

I played with it for years until all the panels fell off and there was literally no grip left. You really couldn’t dribble that ball anymore and nobody could make a shot, except me:-) It was a sad day when I finally had to throw it away.

Since then, I have gone through countless balls and learned a lot about the perfect outdoor basketball.

Today, I want to share what I learned, and help you pick the best option for your style of play and budget.

My #1 Pick
Handling:
star star star
  • Synthetic leather feels great in-hand
  • Handles almost like an indoor basketball but is much more durable
  • My personal favorite outdoor basketball
$31.06 from Amazon.com

This basketball is a great choice if you are a good basketball player and looking for a durable ball that doesn’t compromise your shooting touch and ball handling.

It’s always a small competitive advantage to play with a basketball you are used to. With the Spalding NBA Zi/O there’s a good chance you’ll have the “homecourt advantage” whenever you bring this ball to your local court.

Budget Choice
Handling:
star star_half star_border
  • Very durable rubber ball
  • Perfect ball for kids and beginners
  • Great bang for the buck
$17.99 from Amazon.com

I’ll be honest, I don’t enjoy playing with cheaper rubber balls like the Spalding NBA Street . If you are used to high-quality composite basketballs, the rougher, pebbled rubber surface just doesn’t feel right.

But that doesn’t mean that this ball is not a great choice if you are new to basketball or looking for a cheaper option for your kids. This ball will last you a long time and the rubber compound will keep its grip longer than a softer composite ball.

How Do You Find the Best Outdoor Basketball?

When you pick a basketball there are a lot of different factors you want to keep in mind:

Size

Regular basketballs are big and heavy and won’t work for smaller kids. If you are uncertain about which basketball size to get, take a look at this chart:

SizeCircumferenceRecommended for
Size 527.5 inchesStandard youth ball for ages 9-11
Size 628.5 inchesStandard women ball, boys ages 12-14
Size 729.5 inchesMen and boys 15 years or older

The Right Feel – Composite Leather or Rubber?

When it comes to the surface of your basketball you can generally pick between cheaper rubber balls or more expensive composite leather.

Rubber:
On the bright side, the tougher surface of rubber balls is more durable if you play on rougher blacktop courts and it keeps its grip longer if it gets dusty or dirty.

If you play indoors a lot, it will take you a while to get used to the handling as it just doesn’t feel like you are used to from indoor balls.

Composite Leather
Composite leather is also used in indoor basketballs so outdoor basketballs using this type of material will feel much more comfortable for experienced basketball players. It’s the perfect choice if you play on high-quality outdoor courts and don’t want to compromise on your ball handling and shooting touch.

Unfortunately, this material is less durable, especially if you play on bad courts.

Deflategate

Cheap basketballs tend to deflate when the temperature drops. There’s nothing worse than losing the dribble or getting stripped because the ball just doesn’t bounce right. While all outdoor balls will deflate a little bit when it gets colder, a good outdoor ball will deflate much less. And, deflation is a big deal.
Also, make sure that you have a ball pump at home as every ball will inevitably need to be inflated (or deflated on very hot summer days).

Durability

The outdoor environment is much less forgiving than the indoor environment. Dirt, rocks, moisture, metal backboards and metal nets can really take a toll on a ball. You don’t want to be running to the store every few weeks to pick up a new one. And, you want your ball to break in overtime. This gives you the ultimate feel on the ball, something you want to last. When you have an intimate relationship with the ball, nothing can stop you out on the court.

Moisture Grip

Inevitably, the ball will be introduced to water. Whether you love basketball so much that you’re willing to play through a rainstorm or the ball rolls into a puddle, you’re going to have to handle the ball when it’s wet.

It’s important to know if your ball stands up to the moisture test. Does the ball remain wet after you towel it off? How does the ball handle with a little bit of moisture on it? You want a ball that can stand up to water so you don’t have to have a break in play.

Weight

Every time the ball bounces on an outdoor court, it wears down just a little bit. Dirt on the court acts like sandpaper, slowly whittling away at your ball. This can have a significant impact on the weight of the ball over time. Cheap outdoor balls wear away quickly, giving you a paper bag feel light as a balloon. You need a ball to retain its weight – a lighter ball will mess with your finely-tuned shooting and mad dribbling skills.

Skill Level

When you are playing outdoors you will have to make compromises: If you are a serious basketball player you want a composite leather ball like the Spalding NBA Zi/O that feels great and is fun to play with. Unfortunately, composite leather balls won’t last forever on rough surfaces so you will need to buy a new one from time to time.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a basketball for your young kids that are learning to shoot hoops in your driveway then handling is not that important, but you want a durable ball that will survive rolling into the thorny rose bushes. In this situation, a cheaper rubber ball like the Spalding NBA Street makes more sense!

There are a lot of different options out there; this is just a small selection of the best and most popular ones:

The Best Outdoor Basketballs

My Pick: Spalding NBA Zi/O Indoor/Outdoor

My #1 Pick
Handling:
star star star
  • Synthetic leather feels great in-hand
  • Handles almost like an indoor basketball but is much more durable
  • My first choice among outdoor basketballs
$31.06 from Amazon.com

I feel like this is the best outdoor ball for shooting. In fact, this is an indoor and outdoor ball so it can be used on both courts. It’s a great way to save money if you have to buy just one ball.

The softer, indoor feel of the composite leather is really what shooters like to feel in their hands as they release the shot. A good jump shot rolls softly off the fingertips with slow backspin, which requires an artist’s touch which isn’t possible without the soft, leathery feel of an indoor ball. If you drop bombs, you may want to look into the Spalding NBA Zi/O Basketball.

Another detail I really like about this ball is the deep channels of the seams. These channels make it easy to line the ball up for a J, but it’s also extremely helpful for dribbling. Your fingers literally sink into the seams as the ball rolls across your hand so you can grip it and change directions with your dribble instantly.

If you are a serious basketball player and you are looking for a more durable ball but don’t want to compromise on feeling and ball handling, then the Spalding NBA Zi/O is perfect for you!

Budget Choice: Spalding NBA Street

Budget Choice
Handling:
star star_half star_border
  • Very durable rubber ball
  • Perfect ball for kids and beginners
  • Great bang for the buck
$17.99 from Amazon.com

This is what I like to call the “economy option”. This is the best basic, rubber outdoor basketball on the market and especially recommended for kids or beginners. The pebbling gives you a good grip no matter the weather, the seams allow for better handles and the rubber is still soft enough for a decent feel. This ball also comes fully inflated so you can start to shoot hoops right away!

If you are looking for a basketball for your kids then the Spalding NBA Street is a perfect choice. The rubber is very durable and will survive rough treatment and the ball will keep its air pressure even if it is left outdoors. Good luck finding a basketball that provides better bang for the buck!

More Options:

Mikasa BX1000 Premium Rubber

Handling:
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  • Very strong grip and tacky rubber
  • The seams are not very deep
  • Great bargain option
$12.37 from Amazon.com

This ball is plug-and-play, ready to hit the court straight out of the box. Yes, it is a rubber ball, but it is a great option if you are looking for an affordable outdoor ball. The ball comes in a lot of different sizes so it’s perfect for your kids too.

The unique thing about this ball is the deep pebbling. The pebbles on most rubber balls are weak but on this basketball, it is deep and strong which makes for a great ball in cold or rainy weather because the grip on the ball is so intense.

The seams on the Mikasa BX1000 aren’t very deep but the grip of the pebbling makes up for that. Overall, it’s a great ball for the outdoor enthusiast looking for a bargain.

Wilson NCAA MVP Rubber

Handling:
star star_half star_border
  • Very affordable rubber ball
  • Great choice for youngsters
  • Loses coloring quickly
$16.98 from Amazon.com

This is another simple and affordable rubber basketball that is very similar to the Spalding NBA Street.

Like is the case with all rubber balls, the channels are flatter than in more expensive/indoor basketballs and the pebbles are more aggressive to provide better grip on dusty and dirty courts.

Experienced basketball players won’t enjoy the handling and shooting touch of this ball, but it’s a good pick for kids and occasional players who wouldn’t recognize the difference anyway.

Spalding NBA Hexagrip Soft Grip NeverFlat

Handling:
star star_half star_border
  • Neverflat technology retains air pressure longer
  • Hexagon pebbling gives the ball a unique look
  • Easy to grip
$24.43 from Amazon.com

This ball directly addresses one of my key concerns – inflation. Whether it’s cold temperatures or wear-and-tear, your outdoor ball is bound to let you down at some point. But, Spalding put “never flat” technology into this ball, guaranteeing it stays inflated for at least one year without the need for a pump. That’s some pretty amazing stuff.

The skin of this ball has hexagons etched into it. This gives the ball a different feel from an indoor ball, which may or may not suit you. The good news is the hex design whisks water away so the grip stays the same through inclement weather.

The harder rubber really makes the ball durable and mitigates abrasion. You can play with this thing every day for a year, the grip won’t grind down, and the ball will maintain its weight and shape.

The Spalding Hexagrip is a great outdoor ball for those who play a lot and want a dependable ball that plays well in almost all conditions.

Spalding NBA Street Phantom

Handling:
star star star_border
  • Unique black look with neon lettering
  • Soft rubber for better handling
$19.99 from Amazon.com

This ball is great for midday basketball when the sun is high and glare can become an issue. You can really make out the seams and lettering perfectly on this all-black ball during daylight hours.

This is a rubber ball but it has something called “Soft Grip Technology,” which gives the ball nice handling and makes palming the ball a lot easier. This ball also stands up well to the weather, giving you a good grip even in the rain.

You can customize this ball a little bit, too. The neon lettering of the ball, which glows a little bit in the dark so you don’t lose it, comes in a few different colors. You don’t have to show up to the court with the same ball as everyone else. And, the black color of the ball makes it unique. It’s always easy to find the Spalding Phantom after the game and nobody is about to walk away with your black ball. Its uniqueness protects it.

Wilson NCAA Replica Basketball

Handling:
star star star_half
  • Tacky composite leather cover
  • Picks up dust and dirty easily
  • Deep channels provide a lot of grip to palm the ball
$29.99 from Amazon.com
$34.99 from DICK'S Sporting Goods

Wilson markets this ball as an indoor/outdoor hybrid that will get you the composite leather feel of an indoor basketball but with much more durability. If you compare it to the very popular Wilson “Evolution” indoor basketball you will notice that the NCAA Replica is nowhere near as soft or spongy, a compromise that’s needed to make the ball last longer on outdoor courts.

The grip is really good right out of the box, but bring a towel for the first few sessions because the tacky material picks up dust and dirt easily. Also, some players have a tough time adjusting to the way this ball bounces.

Overall, this is another good choice if you prefer composite leather over rubber and want to get closer to the feeling and handling of an indoor ball.

So, which basketball should you pick?

I believe the best outdoor basketball is the Spalding NBA Zi/O . It takes very little time to break-in. It also has deep seams for handling and a great feel off the fingers for shooting. It’s the closest you’ll get to an indoor feel with an outdoor court in the quickest amount of time.

If you want to save money, you can go for the rubber version of the Spalding. The Spalding NBA Street is affordable and it comes with basically the same specs. It’s just made out of rubber instead of indoor-outdoor synthetic leather.

2 thoughts on “The Top 7 Best Outdoor Basketballs”

    1. My mistake, I was talking about the regular Zi/O Indoor/Outdoor Ball. Spalding has so many different basketballs, it’s really confusing…

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