The Wilson Evolution is the most popular basketball in the United States. This ball is officially used in almost all high school leagues across the country and is also popular due to its soft leather and high durability. This ball has also been officially endorsed by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Priced at $64.95, the ball is offered in three different sizes: Official (29.5“), Intermediate (28.5”) and Youth (27.5“) for all levels of competition. The basketball is produced using many components that would seem very obvious, such as rubber and leather, but many modern basketballs are increasingly using other synthetic materials to improve performance. Wilson offers scant information regarding the construction and processes of their basketballs, along with little information regarding their sustainability efforts, thus making this product difficult to evaluate.
The Wilson Evolution is constructed using a micro-fiber composite leather for the main surface of the ball. The internal structure of the basketball consists of two parts: a bladder and the carcass. The bladder is made using butyl rubber. The carcass, which is a series of threads that fully shape and structure the bladder, is comprised of nylon. Rubber, leather, and textiles make up almost 8% of landfill bulk, demonstrating the significant environmental impact that these materials can have on the environment.
Wilson significantly lacks information regarding their manufacturing and material processes. Butyl rubber, for example, can be produced in multiple ways, some of which are more sustainable, such as by incorporating recycled rubber into the production of new products. Nylon is another material that can be easily reused. Old fishing nets are currently a large source of recycled nylon, not only preventing ocean pollution, but preventing the energy expenditure to produce new nylon. However, given Wilson’s lack of transparency, it seems appropriate to conclude that they are not making sustainable efforts in their basketball division. Although Wilson does not seem to currently be making headway in sustainable manufacturing practices, these materials (rubber and nylon) are more easily recycled than other materials, meaning that there can be significant promise of a more sustainable future for Wilson.
The making of all basketballs follows a very conventional process. First, Butyl rubber is melted and formed into 12 inch wide sheets. The sheets are cut into 18 inch-long segments. Next, an air tube is inserted into the sheets so the ball can be inflated. The tube is heat-pressed into the rubber to ensure it will not come out. The sheet is then vulcanized, which is a process by which the rubber is heated under extreme pressure to improve its flexibility. The ball is then inflated for 24 hours to ensure its durability. The balls that survive the inflation test are then wrapped in nylon threads to finally create the basketball shape.
While the rubber bladder and carcass are being constructed, synthetic leather is being cut into 6 panels, which are then heat-treated. The panels are also embossed with any additional decals added. Finally, these 6 pieces are glued to the basketball carcass using a synthetic solvent. The synthetic leather pieces are laminated to the carcass as well to create the channels that add texture for grip as well as distinguishing the 6 separate panels.
Overall, it seems that little waste is produced in this process, as any additional rubber can be re-melted and used to make more rubber sheets. Additionally, nylon has proven to be a fairly recyclable material. However, vulcanization and heat-treatment are very energy-intensive processes and Wilson does not provide any information about the amount of material they recycle. If Wilson disclosed more information about their factories and made pledges to transition towards renewable energy, then I believe that their manufacturing process could be somewhat sustainable.
Wilson is currently a subsidiary of the Chinese company ANTA Sports. Wilson itself has not been involved in any major scandals, but ANTA did make waves for boycotting the NBA in response to Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s comments in support of the Hong Kong protestors in late 2019. Wilson is slated to become the official ball supplier of the NBA in 2021. Wilson is a scandal-free company, and although they do not seem to be on the forefront of sustainability innovation, the company has made advancements in their tennis division. Wilson has proudly announced that they have introduced 100% recyclable packaging for their tennis balls. Their Triniti Tennis Balls are also environmentally-conscious. These balls are extra-durable, lasting 4 times as long as their traditional model, meaning that fewer balls will be used and end up in landfills. Furthermore, Wilson reports that 5% of profits will be used to support global sustainability, although this is a vague promise. In addition to work within their Tennis division, Wilson has also partnered with Recycleballs, a nonprofit dedicated to collecting a recycling tennis balls. Based on their sustainability commitment in tennis, I believe that Wilson does have a sustainable future in store for their basketball products as well.
How it’s made: