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There is no doubt that NBA players are some of the most flamboyant professional athletes on the face of the planet. From custom made basketball shoes with their names or numbers on them to colorfully luxurious life off the court, people have become accustomed to the fact that these talented individuals will do a few things that cause awe and admiration from the public. But what is the deal with all those face masks?
- Why do basketball players wear face masks?
- Is it because they think it looks cool?
- Is it to appear intimidating?
Or is there an actual medical reason why some of the best basketballers wear face masks on the court? Let’s take a few minutes to look at some of the reasons why basketball players wear face masks and where this weird tradition came from.
Why do basketball players wear face masks?
Most team sports such as basketball, football and hockey tend to fall into the larger category of “contact sports”. In these sports, it is customary for players to put on protective gear that will help protect them from possible injuries. Whether it’s a helmet, shin pads, gloves, mouth guards and yes, sometimes face masks, there is always a good reason for such accessories to be allowed on the field of play.
However, some of these protective gear is regulation attire and in many cases, a MUST for the players. For example, a hockey goalie has to wear a helmet and a whole host of protective padding to keep them from what would be inevitable injury otherwise.
But when it comes to basketball and face masks, you often see some players wearing these masks while others don’t. Which leads us to believe that they are not regulation gear and therefore a personal choice for each player. So why do some basketball players wear face masks while others don’t?
1. To Protect Themselves Against an Injury or Possible Injuries
While basketball isn’t as “contact intensive” as say games like hockey and football, the truth is that these players do get injured from time to time. The most common injuries have to do with muscle pulls and dislocated shoulders or knees. Facial injuries get the least attention yet they do happen more often than you would think.
For most players, these kinds of injuries don’t register until they have happened. It is not uncommon for a basketballer to sustain a broken nose, a dislocated jaw or a facial fracture of sorts from the elbow of a fellow player or even from falls. Wearing a face mask is a good way to protect themselves against such injuries. By wearing a face mask, the player is simply taking precaution against such injuries and as a result, can play more freely knowing that they face and nose are protected against potential harm that could physically affect and limit their game.
2. To Play Even When Nursing a Facial Injury
In some cases, basketball players realize the need for the facial masks only after they have been injured on the court. Since further facial injury is rather unavoidable and unpredictable, playing with a broken nose or fractured cheekbone can be risky unless they wear some kind of protections that will keep the injured area from further harm.
That is why people like Mike Conley once wore a face mask to help his fractured facial bone heal without causing him to miss any games or doing any further damage to the injured area.
This all started back in 1990 when Bill Laimbeer of the Detroit Pistons sustained a facial injury from a team mate. That injury was to bench him for an entire month. Because his team needed him, they decided to look for viable solutions. That is when they stumbled upon an orthotist from Detroit called Gerald McHale who came up with a radical idea. He would create a mask that was specifically tailored to suit Laimbeer’s face and protect his injured face. A type of cast that would help him heal all the while allowing him to play with his injury. The mask worked so well that it quickly became adopted by other teams in the NBA for the same reasons.
3. In Order to Make a Statement on the Court
The thing about wearing a face mask is that it offers multiple advantages to the wearer. If it isn’t to protect them from possible injury, then it’s to allow them to play even when suffering a facial injury. A third advantage would be to help them make a statement when they are on the court. Yes, there are players who wear a face mask for this very reason. It allows them to do two things:
- Look cool and distinguishable to their fans
- Look intimidating to the opponent
Back in 2012, the late Kobe Bryant wore a black face mask for this very reason. He started off by wearing a clear one but changed it to a black one which looked more intimidating to his opponents and much cooler to his fans.
Do Face Masks Offer an Added Advantage to the Players?
Technically speaking, face masks shouldn’t offer any kind of added advantage to the player provided they are worn for the two main reasons of preventing possible injury and playing with a facial injury. However, back in 2014, LeBron James run into a bit of trouble with the NBA for his “Dark Knight” face mask. The theory was that, since the mask created a dark shadow around his eyes, it made it difficult for his opponents to guard him because they couldn’t see or read his eyes. That gave him an undue advantage over them. Due to that, the NBA decided to forbid black face masks in competitive games.
For professional NBA players, wearing a face mask on the court gives them great value for these three very good reason. As a fan who enjoys the game and plays from time to time, wearing a face mask could give you the same advantages but there is a very good chance that you would want to go for the “cool effect”.