After a 37-year hiatus, Wilson has reclaimed its position as the official basketball supplier to the NBA. The company will take over the reins starting with the 2021-22 season.
The switch marks the end of Spalding’s nearly 40-year run as the official ball. Wilson will also be the official ball for the WNBA, G-League, 2K League, and Basketball Africa League. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“Hundreds of millions of people play basketball worldwide and participation is expected to increase over the next five to ten years,” Kevin Murphy, Wilson general manager of basketball, said. “The commitment we and the NBA have to fuel growth in participation is at the core of this partnership. We want more people to get out and enjoy this great game, and when they do play, we want to be their basketball brand of choice.”
Wilson was the league’s original official basketball, starting in 1946 and holding that title for another 36 seasons. The new NBA deal gives Wilson access to the premier league in the world as it continues to grow the game globally. The brand is already the official ball of the NCAA, FIBA 3×3 and in Australia and Europe. Wilson also provides the official football of the NFL.
Murphy said the deal with the NBA is just the latest step in a long-term plan of “substantial investment through a diversified portfolio across global basketball organizations, collegiate associations and elite high school basketball federations.”
In 2018, nearly $214 million worth of basketballs were sold in the U.S. alone, so Wilson supplanting Spalding as the official ball in the most prominent league in the world could have large revenue implications. There are more than an estimated 450 million basketball players globally, according to FIBA. Murphy declined to state specific sales goals or figures.
“The value of this partnership to our basketball business is significant; from visibility, brand building, and sales standpoint,” Murphy said. “All these pieces will be important in the long-term. However, today, our energy is focused on working with the league and players to develop the best game basketballs for each league. That is our top priority.”
Working with players will be key, as the announcement drew some ire from NBA players who seem to like the current ball. Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant wrote “Oh hell Nah!!” on Yahoo Sports reporter Chris Haynes’ Instagram post announcing the change.
Haynes also reported the NBA-Spalding split was a mutual agreement. Spalding had a long run as the NBA’s official basketball, beginning in 1983, and players other than Durant expressed displeasure at the pending switch.
It wasn’t always a happy marriage, however, as a three-month experiment in 2006 failed when Spalding and the NBA introduced a synthetic ball. Players reacted to the “New Ball” like consumers reacted to New Coke in 1985.
Murphy said the company will work with players in all their partnership organizations to ensure a quality ball and Wilson’s announcement noted it will make the balls to the specifications currently used – including sourcing the same leather.
“We will continue to invest in and support each of our partners in 5×5 and 3×3 basketball through product innovation, brand experiences, and player engagement,” Murphy said. “We’ll have a greater, more comprehensive view of the sport, even more so than we do today, and will look to support the basketball community-at-large and be a vocal champion of the game.”