Editors' Choice

How NBA Basketball Nets Evolved Over The Years

Arin Spits / November 12, 2016

There was a time when basketball nets were a simple thing. From wooden peach baskets attached to balcony railings to today’s unbreakable basketball nets, the evolution of the basketball goal was influenced to a degree by 2016 NBA Hall of Fame inductee Shaquille O’Neal.


Before we get to that though, let’s take a look at the history of the basketball net.


When the first basketball nets were hung on those balconies, there were no such things as backboards. Backboards were added between 1893 and 1896 as a way to prevent spectators from interfering with the ball that was in play. Instead of balconies, some backboards were placed on to walls directly. This, however, enabled players to jump off the wall while shooting. To combat this, the backboards were moved 2 feet away starting in 1916. This extended to 4 feet in 1939 to provide more space for players to play underneath the basket. The distance from the end line remains the same even to this day.



The introduction of glass backboards came in 1910, but it was banned for a few years in 1916. Indiana University helped bring back glass backboards in 1919 when fans complained about the views when sitting behind wooden backboards in the gym. The school enlisted the help of a local glass company to create the 1.5″-inch thick backboards.


Now, back in the day, the rim was bolted on a metal plate which sandwiched the glass. With this design, the weight of the rim, and any force applied to it, was a burden on the glass alone. It worked well for a while, that is until players got bigger, faster, stronger, and jumped higher than ever before.


Some of the most famous athletes to shatter backboards include Darryl Dawkins, Shaq, and even Michael Jordan.



While there may be nothing more satisfying for a basketball player to dunk a ball so hard that the backboard breaks, the act has caused games to be delayed, even cancelled, and of course it’s a danger to fans and players with pieces of shattered glass flying everywhere.


Dawkins, aka Chocolate Thunder, broke two backboards during the 1979 season and may be the single reason why improvements needed to be made to the backboard design.



The breakaway rim was implemented in the 1981-82 NBA season and was designed to flex once a player dunked, but the rim was still mounted onto the glass. A minor improvement, but New Jersey Nets forward Chris Morris still shattered the backboard in 1993.



Shaquille O’Neal, one of the most dominant centers to ever play the game, wasn’t opposed to breaking backboards either, as seen here:



But for him, his claim to fame, among his multitude of accomplishments in the NBA, has to be tearing down an entire backboard after a dunk.



While the glass didn’t break, the NBA had to increase the strength of the steel braces holding up the net because of what he did in the 1992-93 season.


Today’s “unbreakable” backboards now have the rim attached to a single metal arm that supports the backboard.


From this Sports Science test, it looks like the days of broken backboards are over.