The backboard is the most important aspect of the entire basketball hoop. The shape and material of the backboard will effect how the ball plays off a bank shot and how a missed shot comes off for a rebound. Backboards come in all different shapes and sizes, including the standard 6 by 3.5-ft.rectangle used in the professional and amateur ranks. However, in playgrounds, parks, and gyms across the country players may find backboards made of wood, steal, aluminium, acrylic or tempered glass.
Acrylic is a type of clear plastic that resembles glass. Acrylic backboards are lighter and softer in make-up than tempered glass backboards, although they do tend to be stronger. Because of their light weight, acrylic backboards require reinforcement with heavy framework, such as anodized aluminum or steel, for optimal performance. The extra weight solidifies the backboard, thus providing more consistent results. However, all acrylic backboards develop grooves and scratches over time that leads to deteriorating performance and, eventually, replacement.
The NBA, the NCAA, and most high schools use tempered glass backboards in their gyms. Tempered glass is more durable and up to six times heavier than its acrylic counterpart. Tempered glass requires no further reinforcement, but is prone to shatter on very high-impact dunks. Because tempered glass backboards do not scratch, they always perform consistently and may never need a replacement.
Acrylic performs well as a basketball backboard material, assuming the backboard is reinforced with a heavy frame. The thickness of the backboard also determines its performance. A 1/2-in. thickness is vital for an optimally performing acrylic backboard. Acrylic does, however, have two significant drawbacks when compared to tempered glass.
First, the ball is less responsive for rebounds and bank-shots coming off an acrylic backboard than it is when played off tempered glass. Second, over time, acrylic backboards develop scratches and grooves due to weather and use. For the basketball player, this translates to inconsistent shooting results as the ball may hit a groove and take a slightly different angle than what the player expects. Tempered glass backboards will not scratch, making for consistency and reliability in shots off the glass. Therefore, individuals and teams competing at the highest levels prefer to use this durable material.
The main consideration between acrylic and tempered glass backboards is use. In a driveway or park, acrylic backboards perform well enough to merit consideration. In these locations, the basketball hoop is used for recreation and will not see as much wear and tear as in a competitive setting. In a gym setting, tempered glass vastly outperforms acrylic. The consistency and durability of the backboard is so vital to the players and teams who compete on a regular basis.