The conclusion to the NCAA’s March Madness is drawing closer. As you watch each exciting play unfold, you might be wondering: how does the NCAA make its backboards out of shatter-resistant glass? As we see all the slam dunks and crazy rebound shots, it’s truly amazing that the backboards hold up under all that pressure!
It wasn’t always this way. Backboards used to shatter much more frequently than they do today. The downward trend in dangerous backboard shattering is all thanks to advanced shatter-resistant glass and basketball rim technology.
History of Backboard Shattering
A majority of the time, backboard shattering is an accident, not a purposeful stunt. It requires a player to exert a huge amount of force on the basketball rim so it shatters the glass backboard behind it. Throughout basketball’s history, a number of NBA and NCAA athletes have proven they have the size and strength to shatter a backboard with their slam dunks.
- Gus Johnson of the Baltimore Bullets shattered three backboards during his career in the 60s and early 70s.
- Darryl Dawkins of the Philadelphia 76ers shattered two backboards in his 1979-80 season, resulting in a new rule that caused players to be fined and suspended if they shattered a backboard.
- Jerome Lane of the University of Pittsburgh shattered a backboard in a 1988 game.
- Blue Edwards of East Carolina shattered a backboard during a Midnight Madness event in the late 80s.
- Chris Morris of the New Jersey Nets shattered a backboard in 1993.
- Bryant Reeves shattered a backboard during the 1995 NCAA tournament.
- Darvin Ham of Texas Tech shattered a backboard during the 1996 NCAA tournament.
Technologies that Reduce the Chance of a Backboard Shattering
The first backboards used in college basketball games were made of wood. Complaints from spectators saying it blocked their view resulted in the invention of glass backboards in 1910. Because they were prone to breaking, glass was banned as a backboard material until Indiana University installed more durable 1.5-inch thick plate glass around 1919.
Today, NCAA and NBA backboards come in 1/2-inch thick tempered glass. Tempered glass is made shatter-resistant through a rapid heating and cooling process. This is what gives a backboard its strength and causes it to break into smaller pieces if a player manages to shatter it.
Shattering a backboard creates game delays, puts the players and crowd at risk of injury, and presents high costs to replace the backboard. For this reason, slam dunking was banned in high school basketball and the NCAA in 1967.
Then in 1976, the breakaway rim was invented and dunking was reinstated as a legal way to make a basket. This technology allows the rim to bend down slightly when a player slam dunks the ball, which puts less strain on the backboard, prevents the rim from becoming distorted and reduces the chance of wrist injury.
After Darryl Dawkins shattered two backboards in his 1979-80 season, the NBA officially adopted breakaway rims, which have become an essential element of high-level basketball, including the NCAA, ever since.
Stronger Steel Braces
In his 1992-93 season, Shaquille O’Neal dunked so hard he broke the backboard’s steel supports. Miraculously, the backboard itself stayed intact, a testament to the incredible strength of tempered shatter-resistant glass. Stronger backboard braces have been the norm ever since.
Did You Know?
In the basketball games played on the professional level today, shatter-resistant backboards are actually made from polycarbonate instead of glass, further increasing safety precautions in the game. Since the polycarbonate has the same transparency as glass, you might not be able to tell the difference!