How Does the NBA Handle Its Game Balls?

With the recent revelations about the New England Patriots apparently messing around with the air pressure in the footballs used for the AFC Championship Game, that got us wondering: What does the NBAs do with its respective game balls?

How the NBA handles its game balls

The NBA is the only other major league that uses an air-inflated ball.

NBA Basketball
The NBA’s chain of custody for its game balls is much more stringent than the NFL’s. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

I contacted the NBA through its website about how its game basketballs are handled for game play. Here’s the NBA’s official response, courtesy of Sam Linnerooth of NBA Fan Relations:

NBA game balls are subject to an extensive review process before they are used in an NBA game, ensuring that each basketball adheres to league standards.  The following is a detailed overview of the league’s procedure for reviewing NBA game balls:
  • All teams are sent 72 balls at the beginning of the season.
  • Testing of game balls will take place in each arena prior to the start of the game.
  • Equipment managers or ball boys take three basketballs to the officials’ locker room prior to the game.
  • The officiating crew chief will inspect the three game balls for wear/tear and ensure that the balls comply with the NBA-approved ball pressure specification of between 7½ and 8½ PSI.
  • The crew chief will bring all three game-ready balls to the court during the warm-up period.
  • The crew chief then selects the game ball from the three available balls.
  • If a problem exists with the ball used in the game, one of the two alternate balls will be used.
  • All game officials have been provided with portable air gauges to carry with them to each of their assigned games.

So the NBA’s game basketballs are submitted to the officials for pre-game inspection, and are the purvey of the officials (specifically, the crew chief for that game) throughout the game. There’s only one ball, so there’s no monkey business with teams using their own balls every time they gain possession.

In addition, NBA game balls can be used again, provided they pass the officials’ inspection pre-game. Also, if a team needs more basketballs for whatever reason, they just ask the league and they are then sent to the team.

Here’s a video from the Charlotte Hornets (then Bobcats) on how Spalding, the NBA’s official ball manufacturer, handles each game ball before submission to the league:

It should be noted that, like the NFL, there is a range of pressure at which a regulation NBA ball must be maintained. A basketball deflated to the lower limit of 7.5 psi would be a bit more forgiving once it hit the rim than would one at the maximum of 8.5 psi.


The point is this: the NBA has it figured out regarding the chain of custody of its game balls. Meanwhile, the NFL may now have to re-write an entire section of its rulebook regarding how game balls are handled, thanks to the New England Patriots.

Also of note:

Major League Baseball

How Major league Baseball handles its baseballs is well documented. Perhaps the most interesting fact is how they are rubbed by the home team’s clubhouse attendant with a specific kind of mud from the Delaware River. View these videos for more on that:

National Hockey League

The NHL keeps its pucks frozen during the game until they are ready for play.

Special thanks to Sam Linnerooth and Tim Frank of the NBA for their help with this article.