Why Do NBA Players Wear Masks?

Fashion accessory or necessity? Why do NBA players wear masks?

When an NBA star walks on the court with a mask on, they naturally get a lot of eyeballs. We’re not talking about the protective face masks that we see everybody wearing nowadays because of the global pandemic. We’re talking about the masks that NBA players have used time and again when they’re nursing an injury.

While contesting for rebounds under the basket or driving to the rim, it is very easy to get hit on the face. The masks don’t look pretty, but they are necessary to make sure that the injuries dont get worse; plus, that is the only way players get clearance to step on the court.

Does the mask impede the player’s performance?

If you’ve ever seen a player play with that protective mask on them, you should know that it looks really uncomfortable, and naturally, you would think that the players will have a lot of discomfort problems while playing with the uncomfortable piece of plastic on their face.

However, you would be surprised to know that this is not the case with every player. There have been many instances where players walked on the court with the mask on and walked out with the performances of a lifetime. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest names in the league who have produced absolutely magical performances with the mask on.

Kobe Bryant

The news of Kobe’s passing last year came as a shock to all basketball fans around the globe. He unequivocally was one of the best that ever played the game, and will always be remembered for the legend of a man that he was.

Kobe stepped on the court with a mask on back in 2012 when he had broken his nose in an All-star game by running into Dwyane Wade. He started with a black mask but ended up switching to a transparent one later. Throughout the course of the game, he managed to put up a whopping 38 points against the Sacramento Knights. The mask was later auctioned for 50 thousand dollars.

Kyrie Irving

Irving wore a mask on two different occasions, once with the Boston Celtics and once with the Cleveland Cleavers. His biggest performance came with the Cleveland cleavers when he walked on the court with a black Zorro mask to protect his broken jaw. He scored 41 points, five rebounds, and five assists.

Richard Hamilton

After breaking his nose on multiple occasions during the 2003/2004 season, Richard hamilton AKA Rip Hamilton was told by his doctors that he would have to wear a mask for the rest of his career. He subsequently wore a mask for more than four years.

His best performance with the mask came in the 2004 NBA finals against the LA Lakers. He went on to score 31 points in game three of the finals and gave the pistons a 2-1 advantage in the series.

Lebron James

Lebron James stepped on the court with a mask on in 2012 against the Charlotte Bobcats playing for Miami heat and scored his career-high, scoring 61 points. Prior to that, he had worn the mask back in 2005 when he was with the Cleveland Cleavers. His most noticeable performance with the mask on back then was 31 points.

Joel Embiid

In 2018, Joel Embiid took a really bad hit when he smashed into his teammate Markelle Fultz. He broke his eye socket, which required surgery to fix. After the surgery, he wore a black mask to speed up the recovery.

He didn’t look too comfortable wearing the mask, but he was still able to score 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and three blocks, which led his team to victory.

Different types of masks used on the court

Since these masks seem to be a norm in the basketball world, you must have already guessed that a few different kinds of these masks are made according to the need of each player, and the type of injury that they have been subjected to.

  • Generic Masks

If you have a small injury and have to wear the masks just for a few games, you can go for the generic; one size fits all. However, you may have to sacrifice comfort because every person has a different face structure, and the masks will likely not fit your face perfectly, but it still gets the job done.

Another downside to using a generic mask may be that the velcro straps may not be of the best quality, and they may cause you to feel really hot while wearing the mask. However, you don’t have to wear the mask all the time; you can take it off at the free-throw line by pushing it to your forehead.

  • Custom-fit

If you’re nursing an injury that will take an extended period of time to heal completely, then you should definitely get a custom fit mask because if you go for the generic mask, the lack of comfort may start impeding your performance. So it is highly recommended that you get a custom fit mask.

A custom-fit mask is going to cost you more money, but it will be way more comfortable, and once you get used to it, you don’t even feel it on your face. You get maximum comfort with these masks because they are designed by taking a mold of your face. The mold is used to design a mask that fits your face perfectly while ensuring the highest degree of comfort.

The man behind the masks

From the moment you walk into his office, it’s easy to tell who put Jeremy Murray on the map.

Rip Hamilton was the first man behind his mask. Murray says,” I’ve literally had people fly from as far as Russia, and Europe and it can literally all be attributed all back to Rip’s mask, which is insane but true.”

After breaking his nose for the second time during the 2003/2004 season, doctors told Rip that he would have to wear a mask for the rest of his career. So, he went to see Murray who’s predecessor actually made the first NBA mask for another Piston.

A huge Piston fan himself, Murray had to make sure that Rip’s mask was just right. Murray said,” I don’t know that he was really sold on it initially, but ultimately once he got used to it, he found out that it really did not impact much of anything. He could still come off-screen, he could still hit jump shots, and he added his own style to it with his headband.”

Rip’s new look was on display for the world to see as he led the Pistons to victory in the 2004 NBA finals. In a way, Rip’s bad break was the big break for Murray, but it didn’t come without some stress.

In an interview, Murray said,” I’m gonna let you in on a little secret, the mask I made for Rip was the first mask I ever made in the history of my career, so when you talk about whether there was pressure there or not, yeah there was a lot of pressure, I was watching every single game, the tiniest little things like is it sliding on his face, is it bugging him, is he playing with it, just to make sure that I hadn’t messed up.

All these years later, Murray has made what he estimates to be between sixteen to seventeen hundred face masks. His office in warren is filled with plaster molds from his clients. Some of his biggest clients included Kobe Bryant, Charlie Villanueva, and Aron Baynes.

Do the masks make it hard for the players to see?

If a mask is making it hard for a player to see, they would never use that mask in a game. Modern technology has enabled companies to design the masks in a way that they feel as if they are not even there. They understand that athletes use their peripherals to make crucial decisions.

The whole idea behind a custom mask is to make sure that the player can play their normal game without making their injuries even worse; if the player is unable to play their natural game with the mask on, that will defeat its whole purpose and render it useless.

How are the masks made?

NBA masks can be made of different materials; some are made of hard plastic with some fancy name, some are made using carbon fiber, and some are made from shatterproof medical-grade polycarbonate. The company and the player together decide which material works the best for the player. In recent times, the NBA has seen a lot of players opt for carbon fiber masks that are lighter in weight and are impact resistant.

Famous masks banned from the NBA.

The NBA has strict rules around accessories and dress code, but even with these rules, we’ve seen NBA players rock some insane face masks that end up getting banned and resulting in fines.

Kobe Bryant

During the 2012 NBA season Kobe was still putting up huge numbers with the LA Lakers. Based on the season, Kobe acquired another all-star selection. This all-star weekend would stick with him forever.

Kobe took an ugly shot to the face from Miami heats’ star Dwayne Wade but finished out the game before getting evaluated. However, after a CT scan, according to ESPN, he had a nasal fracture.

Despite being diagnosed with a concussion and a fractured nose, Kobe found a way to still play at a high level. Kobe scored over 30 points in the three games he played with the mask on.

He was initially wearing a clear mask but later switched it with a custom black one. On March 6, 2012, Kobe walked on the court looking like some version of a superhero, something we had never seen before.

He went with the black mask because the clear mask would get too foggy for him, but he only wore it for one half before claiming discomfort, but it didn’t matter because the NBA wouldn’t let him wear it again anyway.

Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving has always been known for his flash plays and his signature playmaking ability, but for some reason, whenever Kyrie changes something up, it tends to go off.

From his jersey getting naturally untucked to him wearing a mask, Kyrie doesn’t disappoint. Throughout his career, Kyrie has had two separate injuries that required him to wear a mask.

On December 14, 2012, back in the pre-James days of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Irving broke his jaw bone against the Milwaukee Bucks. A day later, the then 21 years old wore a mask while facing the New York knicks.

For the next game, Irving decided to wear a different black mask. He came out for the pre-game warm-ups looking like someone from a movie. In nineteen games wearing the mask, during the 2012 2013 season, Irving averaged 24 points. After the game, Irving was asked about wearing the black mask instead of the clear one, and he replied that the mask helped him see better and felt more comfortable, and he didn’t have to take it off as much.

In November 2017, Irving had to deal with another injury, but he could only wear the clear mask because the NBA had banned the black. When he was asked about the clear mask, he said he hated wearing it, but he understood that it was for his own safety.

Lebron James

Lebron James has been known throughout his career for his ability to push through adversity. When James gets injured, it really hurts the team. James was forced to wear a mask after he got injured back in 2014 against OKC thunder. Midway through the fourth quarter, thunders’ forward Serge Ibaka hit him in the face on a drive to the basket.

Lebron missed the Heats home victory against Chicago and spent time during the week privately sorting through a selection of masks designed by a local Miami manufacturer. James initially told some of his teammates and the media that he would be wearing a clear fiberglass mask similar to the ones worn by several other players in the league. However, he emerged on Thursday with a sleek design that was significantly more dynamic than usual. He later said that he opted for the black fiberglass mask because it went with the uniform and that it was lighter than the one that he’d been wearing during practice.

The mask attracted a lot of attention from his teammates and the crowd. One of his teammates said that he looked like Batman and that only LeBron could make a broken nose look cool. However, the mask was later banned by the NBA, and Lebron was told that he could no longer wear the mask. We haven’t seen LeBron’s alter ego ever since. We don’t know why the black mask was banned; maybe LeBron with the mask on was too much for the league to handle.

Final thoughts

Some people may think that masks are not necessary because getting hit in the exact same spot twice is highly unlikely. But if you’re someone who’s played competitive basketball or any other tough physical sport for that matter, you know that if you don’t take care of your injury, it gets worse and worse to the point where you can no longer play.

So to stay on the safe side, NBA athletes opt for masks. Plus, if a player is injured, they aren’t cleared to step on the field unless they wear a mask, so it’s not really a choice; if it were, I’m sure a lot of players would opt to go without the masks given how uncomfortable it can get at times.