As the new basketball season begins, fans of the sport often claim that new basketballs look more or less orange – while others wonder why they are orange in the first place.
It turns out there’s actually a good reason behind the color choice, introduced in the late 1950s.
And the reason is visibility.
The basketballs were initially brown, prompting complaints from Butler University. basketball coach Tony Hinkle that players and fans couldn’t see them well.
In 1957, Hinkle partnered with the Spalding Company to develop a basketball that would not blur with the court when it bounced.
And orange was the color he chose.
Orange basketballs debuted in 1958 NCAA Finals in Louisville, Kentucky.
The NCAA adopted the new design next season after recognizing the improved visibility it provided.
However, not all major competitions immediately went orange.
The ABA used red-white-blue basketballs until the league merged with the NBA in 1976.
In particular, the WNBA has used basketballs painted orange and oatmeal since the league’s inception in 1996.
“The last thing the world needed was another orange basketball,” the late NBA commissioner David Stern said of the design in an interview with Sports Affairs Journal.
League officials tested 12 different colors before settling on orange and oatmeal, including black and orange and light blue.
“We chose the oatmeal and orange one because you could see the rotation of the shot,” said former NBA creative director Tom O’Grady.
“The black and orange had too much contrast.”
Ironically, the ball visibility problem returned with the introduction of the In-Season tournament during the 2023-24 NBA season.
Teams use specially designed courts with distinct paints for tournament games, some of which make the orange basketball difficult to see, prompting complaints from fans.