Whether you're playing basketball on a regulation court or on your driveway at home, the ball in your hand likely looks a certain way. A standard basketball has a pebbled exterior that's separated into eight panels by thin black lines. Those lines do more than give the ball its distinctive look. According to Basketball Word, the lines on a basketball make the sport easier to play.
Like the dots covering the outside of a basketball, the ball's grooves make it easier to handle. In a game that requires players to maneuver around a court while dribbling a ball, control is key. The basketball's lines allow players to grip the ball better and steer it in a different direction in the brief moment when it makes contact with their hand. If the ball was completely smooth, guiding it would be much harder. Anyone who has ever played with an old basketball with worn-away lines already knows how much of a difference those thin strips of rubber make.
Today we take a basketball's functional design as a given, but it wasn't always part of the game. Early in the sport's history, basketball was played with smooth soccer balls on an oil-polished hardwood court. In those days, keeping a grip on the ball was almost as hard as getting it in the basket. Dribbling hadn't been introduced by this point (players had to throw the ball from where they caught it) so that likely made things easier.
To learn more about basketball, check out these facts about the game's origins.