Why

Why Do NBA Players Wear Masks?

Is the Mask a Fashion Statement or Safety Measure?


Basketball is a game of quick thinking and swift movement. One moment you will be watching the players gracefully maneuver across the basketball court to shoot a basket, rocking a pretty cool face mask, and the next it could look like a war between the two teams. Basketball fans around the world go crazy for the sport, and rightfully so, since it really does give you an adrenaline rush with all the quick and hefty movement and the uncertainty of the game. 

Have you ever wondered “Why do NBA players wear masks?” Of course, it goes without saying that they look rather impressive and serve as a great fashion statement, but is that the only reason the players wear a face mask? We dug deep and tried to understand the other benefits of a face mask for basketball players. Keep reading to find the answers to all of your questions. 

What is a Protective Face Mask in Basketball?

Fashion or Safety?
Fashion or Safety?

Protective basketball face masks, also referred to as protective face shields or protective nose guards, are used by basketball players (both for players on the bench as well as playing on the court) to help them shield their face from any possible injuries such as an elbow or knee to the face or a ball straight to the nose resulting in a broken nose. They are also used to allow for an injury, especially for nose injuries or cheekbone fractures to heal without any further damage, while also allowing the player to be back on court. NBA players wearing masks is pretty common these days.

While most protective face masks are clear and transparent, some players may choose to sport a colored face mask or black mask as well, just to change up their appearance or make a fashion statement. 

What Are the Different Types of Injuries an NBA Player May Get to the Face?

Basketball players are susceptible to injuries
Basketball players are susceptible to injuries

Protective face shields are predominantly used for the following facial injuries while playing basketball: 

  • Nasal injuries – injuries related to the nose, such as a broken bone or nasal fracture
  • Orbital injuries – injuries to the eye, such as swelling or bruising 
  • Maxillary injuries – injuries related to trauma to the face, such as a broken jaw
  • Zygomatic injuries – injuries to the cheek or to the cheekbone 

Why Do NBA Players Wear Masks?

Why do NBA players wear masks?
Why do NBA players wear masks?

For Protection

Face masks, or nose guards, act as protective gear for NBA players. Not only do they protect them from catching the flu but they also help guard them against possible injuries to their face or prevent a further injury if they are injured. Along with this, they also act as protection for healing injuries. In fact, doctors will permit an NBA player to play the game if and only if they are wearing a mask – a protective mask (and not a generic mask), to be exact.

To Daunt the Opposite Team

NBA players wear face shields to intimidate the team they are playing against, and come on, let’s be frank, they do look pretty menacing. Another reason why NBA players wear protective face masks (other than striking terror in their opponent team), is to look like superheroes for their fans. Give an NBA player a cape and they truly will look like a superhero, don’t you think?

To Leave a Mark

Wearing a face mask is a great tactic for NBA players to make their presence known. It provides a clear cut distinction between them and their fellow team mates. Many NBA players, like Richard Hamilton, who initially wore face masks to help protect his  healing injuries, wear a mask to mark their signature looks. 

Are NBA Players the Only Basketball Players Who Wear Masks?

NBA players are not the only basketball players who wear protective face masks. Since these masks predominantly serve the process of protection against injuries to the face as well as healing, they are used by multiple other leagues as well. 

Below is a list of basketball leagues which wear protective face shields are: 

  • NBA 
  • FIBA 
  • EuroLeague 
  • NBA G League 
  • VTB United League
  • Liga ACB 
  • WNBA 
  • LNB Pro A 
  • Super Basketball League 
  • EuroCup Basketball 
  • Premier League 
  • EuroBasket 
  • B1 League, and many more.

Why Do Basketball Players Wear Masks?

If you are someone that has played the sport before, you will understand what a scary (or at least, we think so) game basketball can be. It is a hands-on game, although ideally, too much physical contact is against the rules. Having said that, if you have played basketball or watched a game, you know that it can get pretty rough. While wearing a protective face mask won’t be able to safeguard a player from injuries to the body, it definitely can lend a hand in saving the face from a painful injury.  

To Protect a Healing Facial Injury 

Basketball players wear protective face masks to safeguard their facial structure against any serious injury. If a basketball player has a nose injury because they got elbowed in the face, the doctor will first work on aligning the bone of the nose. Wearing a protective mask can also protect a basketball player from further damaging their nose. 

While wearing a face shield, of course, has its numerous benefits, it can become intolerable during the initial days following the nose bone alignment procedure due to increased swelling. 

To Be Able to Play Despite an Injury 

Often, the injury may not be as serious as it seems. Despite that, doctors will often recommend that a basketball player refrain from playing the game or getting on court, unless they take necessary precautions. For this very reason, basketball players will prefer wearing a mask so that they are able to get on the court and play. 

Better Safe Than Sorry 

As they say ‘prevention is better than cure’. Some NBA players wear a face shield or a face mask simply to protect themselves from any possible injury. Better safe than sorry, right?

As a Fashion Statement 

Without a doubt, wearing a mask serves as a fashion statement. To the opponent team, basketball players appear more menacing and intimidating. But to the fans? Boy, oh boy they think you look like an iconic hero. 

Can a Protective Mask Impact the Performance of a Basketball Player?

There is a large debate over whether wearing a protective face mask can impact the performance of a basketball player or not. Some argue that wearing basketball masks can become annoying for a player, since they will have to pay attention to making sure it doesn’t slip off. Others say that the mask may lead to trouble in breathing, although no research has yet indicated for this belief to be true. 

In spite of all this, we found that masks do in fact affect the performance of a basketball player – both in a negative as well as in a positive way. Having said that, we don’t believe it is fair to assess the skills of a player just because they were uncomfortable whilst wearing a face mask. While some players are able to deal with wearing a face mask almost as if there is nothing covering their face, others appear to be in visible discomfort. 

What Is a Face Mask for Basketball Players Made Of?

Face mask made of hard plastic
Face mask made of hard plastic

The material used in the creation of a protective face mask for basketball players can differ from brand to brand. Yet, it is safe to say that most companies use either hard plastic or carbon fiber. One of the most commonly worn masks by NBA players is a black carbon fiber mask.

Face mask made of carbon fibre
Face mask made of carbon fibre

The aim is to have a sturdy yet lightweight mask which won’t damage a basketball player’s facial structure or injury. Usually, a protective face shield will be clear in color, but players can opt for a colored mask, if they would like one. Some players also order a custom fit mask to ensure they don’t end up with broken noses.

List of Famous Basketball Players Who Wear Masks

Here is a list of famous basketball players who donned face masks while on court: 

Kobe Bryant 

Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant is a basketball sensation. In 2012, at the NBA All-star game, Kobe broke his nose after running into Dwayne Wade. Did you know that the face shield he wore was auctioned for well over 50 thousand dollars? If that isn’t enough, Kobe Bryant’s face mask also had its own Twitter handle. 

LeBron James

Lebron James
Lebron James

LeBron James is another well-known NBA player who was made to wear a protective face mask. In 2005, James suffered from a cheekbone injury, due to a clash he and Dikembe Mutombo had. Despite the fractured cheekbone, the first time LeBron James stepped foot onto the court post his injury, he recorded not only eight rebounds but also 26 points. Talk about skill! 

Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Zydrunas was a top-notch player for the longest time, especially during the mid of his basketball career. However, having said that, he was also accompanied in his games by injuries for quite some time. Back in 2004, Zydrunas had a nose injury and was advised to wear a protective nose guard in order to protect his nose and allow it to heal without any further damage. Such a tall, well-built player wearing the mask truly did make him look terrifying, to say the least. 

Bill Laimbeer 

Bill Laimbeer
Bill Laimbeer

Anyone that has seen Bill Laimbeer play in the NBA knows what a menacing player he is. Yet, despite being one of the toughest players of all time, Laimbeer couldn’t avoid the face mask. As a matter of fact, the clear face mask was designed for Bill Laimbeer in the first place. It is now used by many players in the basketball world. 

Russel Westbrook 

Russel Westbrook
Russel Westbrook

Back in 2015, Russel Westbrook had a severe fracture on his face. He had a player knee him in the face, causing a cheekbone fracture. Of course, due to such a painful injury, Westbrook was advised to wear a protective face mask whilst on the court. Russel Westbrook went an extra mile and added a headband over his mask, creating a fashion statement. 

Rip Hamilton 

Rip Hamilton
Rip Hamilton

The king of masks, Rip Hamilton, was found wearing a face mask not for one but for a shocking four years. Rip Hamilton suffered from a nose injury two times in the 2003 to 2004 season. Despite moving cities and teams, Hamilton’s top notch game and his face mask stayed strong with him. 

Some other famous NBA players who have worn face masks while playing are: 

  • Chris Paul 
  • A.C. Green
  • Andrew Bogut
  • Harold Pressley 
  • Joe Johnson
  • Will Perdue 
  • John Starks 
  • Lucious Harris 
  • Jason Terry 
  • Brandon Williams
  • Alonzo Mourning
  • Tracy McGrady 
  • Bimbo Coles
  • Anderson Varejao 
  • Rodney Rogers
  • Shawn Marion
  • Charles Oakley 
  • Roy Hibbert 
  • Lamond Murray 
  • Antonio McDyess
  • Francisco Elson 
  • Courtney Lee
  • DeSagana Diop
  • Charlie Villanueva 
  • Andrei Kirilenko 
  • Mickael Pietrus 
  • Troy Murphy 
  • Tyrus Thomas
  • Hedo Turkoglu 
  • Wally Szczerbiak 

Things to Consider When Buying a Mask for Basketball Players

Below are the things one should consider when buying a mask for basketball players: 

  1. Does the protective face mask come in the right size, suitable for me? 
  2. What is the material of the protective face mask? Will it be durable and sturdy? 
  3. If I get injured again while wearing the protective face mask, will the mask protect my injury?
  4. Will I be able to reuse this protective face mask if I get another injury?
  5. Is the material of the protective mask breathable and comfortable? 
  6. Do I experience a lot of discomfort for a prolonged time when I am wearing the protective face mask?
  7. Will the protective face mask cater to the type of injury I have? 
  8. Is the protective face mask shatterproof? 

You could also think about whether the face mask helps you in making a fashion statement, although we do not really recommend keeping this on high priority for your requirements. 

Final Words

NBA players wear face masks for numerous reasons, one of the main reasons being for protection and healing purposes. Whether you play basketball professionally in a club or league, or you are on the school basketball team or you go out with your friends to play the game, taking care of your health and preventing any serious injuries is a top-most priority. The last thing you want is to have someone poke your eye out or elbow you in the nose. 

If you’re still wondering if it makes for a great fashion statement, here is a list by ESPN, showing you which NBA players wore these masks the best.

If you have any questions, doubts or queries, feel free to drop a comment in our comments section below, and our experts will get back to you with an answer in no time. If there are any products you have in mind that you would like for us to review and compare, do write to us!

Written by:
Editor-in-Chief and lead author at WhyDo

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