Why Do NBA Players Wear Masks?


 

When an NBA player wears a mask they become the center of attention. We often wonder why the mask? It just looks soo uncomfortable to play in.

Why do NBA players wear masks? Players wear masks for protection of a previous injury to the face or nose that has not healed yet. The mask is just like a helmet in that it protects the face from further injury to the unhealed bone. It is the only way a doctor will clear a player to play basketball is wearing a protective mask.

The face mask gets a lot of attention when a star player wears it, we will take a look at the players that rocked these masks in the past and also look at some buying options if you have to buy one yourself due to an unfortunate injury to the face.

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The Magic Of The Mask

Does the mask have special powers, it seems like it. There are many examples of players wearing the mask that went above and beyond. Having career highs and the biggest game of their lives. Here are a couple of players that had some magic in their mask.

 

Rusell Westbrook

In 2015 Russell Westbrook who had a fractured cheekbone due to a knee to the face had to wear the mask to protect his injury. Sure enough, the thunder who were fighting for the last playoff spot in the West needed a victory.

Westbrook who was in MVP mode scored and had a career-high 49 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block. Westbrook also took the like of Richard Hamilton and put a headband over his mask.

 

Kobe Bryant

Kobe is going to score regardless of the mask or not, heck he could probably score blindfolded. Kobe Bryant broke his nose at the 2012 NBA All-star game when he ran into Dwayne Wade.

Kobe put up 38 points on a night versus the Sacramento Kings. He initially wore a black mask but switched over to a transparent one after. The mask was later auctioned for over 50 thousand dollars.

 

Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving wore the mask twice in his career, one with the Boston Celtics and the other with Clevland Cavaliers. His most notable game with the mask was with Clevland in 2012 Scoring 41 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists. This was a career-high with the black Zoro mask and a broken jaw bone.

 

Richard Hamilton

The king of the mask Rip Hamilton wore the mask for 4 years but the most notable and most important game he played in his career was in the 2004 NBA finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. In-game three of the finals, Hamilton went on a tear to score 31 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists to push the Pistons to a 2-1 games advantage in the series. The Lakers never won a single game after that.

 

Lebron James

Lebron James scored 61 points against the Charlotte Bobcats while he was playing for the Miami Heat in 2012. This was his career-high and still is to this date which is unbelievable. Lebron also wore the mask in 2005 when he was on the Clevland Cavaliers his most notable game there was 31 points and 10 rebounds.

 

More on Why Players Wear Masks

If you play basketball you understand that the game can be very physical, if you think back to how many times you have played basketball and have been hit in the face I’m sure you won’t be able to remember.

The mask is used to protect a broken nose from more damage, In which the injury happens due to an inadvertent elbow. When the nose is broken the doctor will have to align the nose bone, this must be done within the first two weeks so the bone doesn’t heal the way it is.

While wearing the mask for protection of the nose their could be a lot of swelling from the break and the realignment, wearing the mask may feel very uncomfortable.

The Mask isn’t just for broken noses, other reasons for wearing the mask are a facial contusion, broken orbital bone, broken cheekbone, and broken facial bone.

Players do not choose to wear masks 99 percent of the time it is suggested by the doctor. The doctor will not clear a player to play unless they wear the mask to protect and allow the healing process to take its course and not be disrupted by a hit or blow.

No player wants to wear the mask but they have to, to avoid missing games. If they don’t wear the mask and they happen to get hit in the face then they may be out longer and cause more damage.

 

 

NBA All-Stars Wearing The Mask

Here is a list of players that wore masks with their respective teams and the year with the injury. These players are in no particular order, and they are not all broken noses.

 

Player Team Year Injury
Kobe Bryant Lakers 2012  Broken Nose
Lebron James Cavs 2005, 2012  Broken Nose,
Richard Hamilton Pistons 2000-2004 Broken Nose
Chris Paul Clippers 2012  Nasal Fracture
Russel Westbrook Thunder 2015  Fractured Cheek Bone
Joel Embid Sixers 2018 Broken Eye Socket
Kyrie Irving Cavs 2012, 2018 Broken Nose. Broken Bone In Face
Tracy Mcgrady Houston 2006 Broken Nose
Wilt Chamberlin  Warriors 1964 Broken Nose
Rudy Tomjonovich Rockets 1977  Broken Face

 

The Masked Men

Richard Hamilton

Richard Hamilton wore the mask for 4 years straight after deciding to wear it indefinitely due to breaking his nose 3 times in games during his career. When I think about the mask besides thinking about the Texas Chainsaw Massacre I think of  Rip Hamilton.

Hamilton wore the mask the longest and won an NBA Championship in 2004 against the Lakers which no one thought they were going to win. I can understand why he would get hit in the face so much as a shooting guard he’s constantly running around looking for the ball, he like a Steph Curry but mid-range.

Having to fight to get open and run around the screen while the defense beats you up and makes it difficult for you,  are bound to get a fair share of elbows to the face.

I pulled up a picture of Rip Hamilton and laughed he wore a headband over his mask, I bet it held the mask on better and that is why he did it.

Lebron James

Lebron James wore a mask after breaking his nose, but he didn’t just wear any mask he did it with style, he wore a black carbon fiber masked that looked like a batman mask. That was the talk of the whole game, Lebron knew what he was doing, that mask was the first of its kind.

After the game, the NBA asked Lebron not to wear the mask again as they felt it gave him an advantage as the players couldn’t see his true facial expression under the mask. They asked that he wear a clear transparent mask instead.

Now if I was the Commissioner of the NBA I would get a plastic molding of that mask and put it in the NBA store for the kids to buy, watch that thing sell out. All kidding aside I do think it was a weak move on the NBA’s part.

 

Joel Embid

The most unusual combination Joel Embid wore a mask and goggles over the mask in 2018 to help protect a broken eye socket that he suffered when he ran into his own teammate. The mask was black, and it was allowed, not sure why though considering Lebron when he wore the black carbon fiber mask.

You can tell Embid wasn’t too comfortable with this thing on his face he would take it off during free throws by moving it above his eyes so he can see without the goggles and mask.

 

Rudy Tomjonavich

Rudy Tomjonavich ended up wearing a very ugly face mask during his NBA playing career, which unfortunately he had no choice if he wanted to play basketball. This next story is a very sad story and the parties involved have forgiven each other but it forever changed the NBA during that time.

In 1977 Rudy Tomjonavich suffered a horrendous injury on the court by a player named Kermit Washington who played for the Los Angeles Lakers. Tomjonavich at the time was playing for the Rockets and was punched so hard by Washington during a player scuffle that shattered Tomjonavich’s jaw and the face bone while inflicting life-threatening head injuries.

Tomjonavich was sidelined for 5 months and eventually made a full recovery, while also making the Allstar team two years later. Tomjonavich was an elite player averaging 17.7 points per game a and 8.1 rebounds a game for his career but unfortunately is only remembered by this incident.

So Kermit Washington was kicked out of the league right? No, Washington only received a 60-day suspension and fined $10,000 for almost killing someone. Rudy was never the same player and was forced to retire early.

Tomjonavich ending up coaching after his playing career and won two championships in 1994 and 1995 with the Houston Rockets as head coach.

If you’re interested in reading more on this story John Feinstein Wrote the book The Punch: One Night, Two Lives and the Fight That Changed Basketball Forever. Click Here For The Book!

Custom Fit vs One Size Fits All

Generic Mask

The generic one size fits all may be a good choice if you only have to wear the mask for a couple of weeks and are on a tight budget. These masks may have limitations such as comfort, every person’s face structure is different and the mask may sit differently on your face then someone else wearing it.

Materials of the mask may not be the highest quality such as the velcro straps or the face mask itself causing you to become hot. But really your not trying to make a fashion statement so who cares. Remember you are only wearing it when you are playing you can take it off at the free-throw line by moving it to your forehead and removing it when you’re sitting on the bench.

 

Custom Fit

If you know that you have to wear a face mask for a while then you may look at getting one that is custom-fitted. It will cost you more money but they will make sure it is as comfortable as it can be.  This is a better option then a one size fits all. If you are a taller bigger player those generic masks may not fit your face properly and you may have to be forced to go down this route.

The great thing about custom-fit is that they will take a mold of your face and adjust anything they need to for maximum comfort. They may give you a loaner mask until the custom fit mask is ready.

 

Is the Mask Hard To See

The mask is designed in a way for the player to continue to see as if he was not wearing one. The companies that make these masks understand that in basketball you are using your peripherals to make crucial decisions on the court.

If the mask hindered your vision then more than likely you would get tunnel vision and no one would end up wearing them. Are you going to see the mask at the corner of your eye? Probably, but that’s if you focus on it during a game which you more than likely won’t.

What Is The Mask Made Of?

This will depend on the company making it but it ranges from hard plastic with a fancy name to Carbon Fiber which can be lightweight and impact resistant. Others are made of shatterproof medical-grade polycarbonate. The company will use the materials that they feel help the athlete and make them most comfortable.

 

 Purchasing A Face Mask

When buying a face mask or nose guard, if this is your first-time comfort is going to be a high priority. Unfortunately, there will be no other way to test the mask but to purchase it and try it on, if you have too you can see what the return policy is, so ask in advance.

 

My first recommendation is the Mueller Face Guard Mask, it’s a one size fits all has very good reviews and should be comfortable to get you through your injury. It’s made from shatterproof medical-grade polycarbonate, if you have an allergy to latex no need to worry, it also prevents the mask from shifting due to its harness straps.

You can tell the opening in the eye of the mask is wide and big so if you are concerned you might not see well that won’t be the case. Click Here for the Mueller Face Guard Mask 

 

My second recommendation is the Qiancheng Nose Guard Face Shield, designed for smaller faces for kids women and teenagers. The company recommends you measure your cheeks bones if you look at the pictures. After measuring you will compare it with the product dimensions which are 9.5 cm to 11.5 cm and if you fall in this range you are good to order. Very good reviews, I think it’s smart to make a one size fits all within a certain size range. Click Here for the Qiancheng Nose Guard Face Shield.

 Please understand it may not feel comfortable at first you might need to play with the mask on for a while before determining if it’s for you. If it hurts or is super uncomfortable immediately then I would advise not wearing at all, check the return details at the store or at the online retailer you order from.

 

Thoughts On The Mask

Many people believe that there is no need to wear a mask as the chances of getting hit in the same spot twice are unlikely. It’s funny how life works though, I just came back from a long lay off from basketball due to a car accident, I suffered a concussion and whiplash.

From time to time I still feel the side effects of dizziness and headaches, what do you think has happened at basketball the first day back that I played. Yup! you guessed it, connected heads with another player. I stopped playing immediately went home and cause I was feeling dizzy.

I take a week off come back play again and what do you think happened again, I drive to the basket and catch an elbow to the head. In the last month, I have been hit in the head 3 times already, would it look weird if I play with a hockey helmet?

This concludes the article, hope you enjoyed the chart and table. I’m thinking I should just buy a mask and wear it for the magic maybe ill put up 50 points next game 🙂

 

Further Reading

 

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