Walter Dejonghe is the General Manager of the Export Division of Schelde International, a company that was among the first partners of the FIBA Research and Study Centre in 1994. He is currently a member of the FIBA Research and Study Centre Decisional Board of the portable backstop category.
When we think of basketball equipment, we tend to think of the sophisticated and very large portable goals used in modern competitive arenas where the world's best athletes perform. But, an entirely different level of equipment has been very instrumental in the tremendous growth of the popularity of this sport: that is, recreational basketball equipment.
Wall-mounted or simple roll-in basketball goals (units with instant adjustability of rim height), designed to cater to the needs of school-age players, up to recreational adult play are vital pieces of equipment in every school gym because, almost from the time a child can walk, he has a basket that he can shoot at and begin to develop an interest in the game. For more serious basketball competitions, three main types of equipment are used: ceiling-hung structures; wall-mounted structures; and portable units, which can be folded and rolled away for storage. The portable units are now most often used at the highest levels of competition; portability has become extremely important.
PORTABLE UNITS VERSUS WALL-MOUNTED OR CEILING-SUSPENDED STRUCTURES
Portable backstops, as they are commonly referred to, have evolved over the years from units that were heavy, difficult and dangerous to move, into aesthetically pleasing units that can easily and safely be raised, lowered, and moved by one or two people.
Portables are clearly the more professional solution, but here are a few more factors to consider in choosing a backstop:
- Tend to cost less. Cannot damage the sports floor (unlike portables, which are used on all kinds of floors, from hard to very soft, from "point elastic" to "surface elastic."
- Do not require any space in the equipment room.
- Retrofitting suspended backstops in existing venues is not always possible, due to load restrictions on roof beams.
- Should not be used in arenas where the suspension height is over 10 m.
- Are the only professional solution recommended by FIBA, and required by FIBA for high-level competition.
- Can be used as movable "shooting stations" for training and practice sessions.
- Space constraints in school gyms or municipal sport centers often make it impossible to use portables (court lines too close to the wall).
Unlike in most other sports, basketball equipment is truly a "part" of the game: the meanest slam-dunks can be very punishing for the backstop, but at the same time account for the most spectacular aspect of the game.
Ever since its inception, the FIBA Study Centre has monitored the development of a series of new backstop safety features, such as:
- Heavily padded base frames at a distance of minimum 325 cm from the board.
- A center beam is used to attach the rim; oversized holes or cutouts in the glass backboard effectively eliminate the stress of a dunk on the glass itself. This, together with a set of standards for breakaway rims, has effectively taken care of the glass backboard problems of the past.
These represent only a few of the requirements to be met for FIBA-approved backstops; full details may be found at www.fiba.com.
Understandably, a number of important aspects from the owner/user side cannot be addressed in the test criteria:
- Portable basketball goals are unique in the sense that they must be designed and built to withstand abuse (i.e. players trying to rip the rim off the backboard on a dunk; maintenance people needing to set them up and tear them down in very "rushed" time frames, as well as transport them within a building). This makes it mandatory to purchase goals that are of very high quality and strength. (Look for an ISO 9001 manufacturer with an excellent reputation and a proven track record).
- Since the portable goals are often set up very quickly, it is vital that this process be precise and dependable. Therefore the more automatic and foolproof the process, the better the product for its intended purpose. This means that operating the unit should be so simple that anyone can do it and get it right the first time. It should also be something one can accomplish without the need of external forces, such as electricity. Modern spring-operated units, properly counterbalanced, can be set up by one person in minutes and will perform this way for, literally, decades. Schelde invented this system in the 1970s and most backstop manufacturers have since adopted it.
- Portable goals need to be stable, which implies "heavy." Yet they must not damage the flooring where they are set up. It is therefore important to purchase well-engineered units, manufactured by a company whose engineers have given great consideration to the issue. Spreading the weight over the floor properly is a major consideration. Professional companies offer tailor-made solutions with extra wheels, additional ballast weight, and shortened base frames in order to provide truly custom solutions.
- The worst nightmare at any competition is to have a piece of game equipment break down in the middle of a contest. It is therefore important that the goals be virtually unbreakable. When considering such a purchase, it is best to buy from a company whose products have been used in such venues for many years and proven their reliability.
At the same time, one must be aware of the fact that the choice for a certain brand or make for top level tournaments is more likely a matter of sponsorship rather than the result of a careful comparison of product features.
In addition to the existing technical requirements, it would seem to be in the interest of everyone involved in the game if even more consistent standards are developed. Standards should be designed to prevent inexperienced manufacturers (who do meet the test criteria but have no experience with top level events) from supplying their equipment to Level 1 events without (x) years of proven experience. In the interest of the game, ways should be found to ban local politics or other disturbing factors from the decision-making process at this level.
Basketball is a constantly evolving game; the standards need to evolve too. If we want the game's popularity to continue to grow, it will take the cooperation of the proven manufacturers (who have been serving this market for several decades already), and the vision and leadership of an organization such as FIBA.
I believe this is the only way to achieve constant progress.