Quality flooring for a basketball court is critical because even small differences in yield, feel, and flatness can completely change the way the game is played. The flooring material must be hard and solid so that the ball bounces well and consistently. The material also must be durable so that the surface can weather the constant impact. There are only a few options with characteristics suitable for these rigorous demands.
Wood Court Flooring
Basketball was invented when James Naismith was asked by the YMCA to come up with an active indoor sport that would wear out children during the long New England winters. The very first game was played in a gymnasium on a maple floor, which must have been some kind of inspiration because despite modern manufacturing techniques hardwood is still the material used for most indoor courts, including those for professional sports teams.
Maple: This material is particularly well suited to basketball because it has a very tight-knit structure. That helps to prevent small particles of debris from embedding in its surface, causing minor imperfections which can grow larger over time. In addition, maple is resistant to splintering and has enough yield to properly keep a ball bouncing without dampening its speed.
Other woods: While maple is the ideal indoor basketball court flooring, and is the standard for professional play, many home, and local gymnasiums use a variety of other, less expensive hardwoods for this purpose. While that can save a considerable amount of money, it’s important to choose a material that has the proper strength to hold up against the abuse a basketball court will receive, or that cost-benefit may be offset by repair and replacement bills.
Hardwood Finish: A basketball court needs to be as flat as possible, so after the planks are installed they get sanded down to remove minor imperfections and create a smooth, flat surface. Then, several coats of polyurethane are applied to protect the wood and give it a glossy appearance. At this point, the lines and markers that are needed for the sport get painted onto the floor. Finally, two more coats of polyurethane are applied to laminate the images into the floor as one solid piece.
Plastic Court Flooring: Some manufacturers are now starting to develop synthetic plastic materials that have the solid strength necessary for a basketball court, combined with a yielding give that makes them safer against accidental falls, and even better for ball bounce. These are generally comprised of polypropylene, which is molded into squares that click together, making for easy DIY installation.
Green Basketball Courts: Ecologically friendly basketball court flooring can be manufactured using recycled wood resources. Rubber trees are harvested for their sap, which is only produced for about 25 years, after which the functional life of the plant is over. By reclaiming these resources for basketball courts, flooring materials producers can help cut down on waste.
Most wooden basketball court flooring can be recycled and reclaimed for other projects when the gymnasium is no longer in use.
Outdoor Court Flooring
Maple and other good hardwood court flooring options are generally not suitable for exterior locations, and the process of waterproofing them removes many of their beneficial characteristics. For this reason, outdoor basketball flooring is often comprised of concrete or asphalt, which are readily available and suitable for any weather conditions. In many cases, a basket can be installed directly into existing concrete surfaces, as long as they are reasonably flat.
Basketball Court Subfloors
With private courts, most people just install the surface covering over the concrete or plywood subfloor that is already there. With professional courts, you want to create a surface that is hard enough for the dribble, but which also has some yielding properties to help cut down on shock damage to athlete’s joints from the impact of running and jumping. This orthopedic surface can be achieved through the use of cushioned subfloor and underlayment materials, such as rubber pads filled with air and set a foot apart.
At least once a year the entire surface should be screen-buffed and a fresh coat of polyurethane should be applied to keep the floor looking glossy and bright. If the gymnasium is used for parties, dances, and other activities, it may degrade faster due to shoe scuffs and scraping furniture legs. This can precipitate the need for more regular maintenance to retain optimal appearance and performance.
For daily cleaning, the floor should be damp-mopped with an appropriate flooring cleaner once a day. It should then by dry-mopped again after each use to remove abrasive dirt and grit particles. If any liquids fall on the surface they should be wiped up as quickly as possible.
The sensitive nature of basketball court flooring means that at a professional level it needs to adhere to strict quality controls. Often the planks are manufactured by hand, and then inspected for imperfections by specialized “checkers” who require a minimum of one-year training to properly do their jobs.
Only the highest quality grade 1 maple that is completely free of knots can be used. The trees are specifically harvested between August and March to ensure that sap content is low, and an average court can require the material of 80–100 trees standing at 50 feet tall. Once cut, they are placed in a kiln and subjected to both heat and steam treatments to kill any vermin that might still be dwelling in them, and then to dry out the material.
Installation varies, depending on the needs of the court. If the floor needs to be removable for other events, the material is cut down into planks and fitted onto large panels, which are lashed together on the subfloor using steel bands. For permanent installations, the planks are fitted individually and then both nailed and glued to the subfloor. A professional quality basketball court floor costs between $80,000 - $100,000.