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Why do some NBA players wear face masks?

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nba face mask purpose
LeBron James in e famous NBA Face Mask. Photo/ESPN
  • Do you ever wonder what the science behind the NBA face mask?
  • A dozen NBA players have in the past had this mask on during matches
  • Basketball is a very rough sport, and players frequently sustain fractured noses

Do you ever wonder what the science behind the NBA face mask purpose is?

You could be one of those people who would be forgiven for thinking that it is another accessory statement by basketball players. The truth is far from this and a dozen NBA players have in the past had this mask on during matches. Basketball is a very rough sport, and players frequently sustain fractured cheekbones or noses while competing.

Face masks play a double role in providing protection while enhancing the aesthetics of a player.  SportsLeo tells you more about the NBA face mask purpose on the floor.


NBA players with a broken nose wear a specially designed face mask to allow for proper recovery for injured players. Additionally, NBA also dons the mask to protect themselves from injury during matches. Studies show improvements in medical technology; like this face mask, have aided quicker in speedy recuperation which is good news for basketball players.

NBA Face mask

Kobe Bryant in an NBA Face Mask. Photo/Pinterest

While this accessory wasn’t common until a decade ago, it first came to the floor in 1960. The late Dolph Schayes first wore it in 1960 during a match against New York Knicks and Wilt Chamberlain also joined the legends who first wore this mask.

History cites that during a game between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers, Kevin Kunnert and Kermit Washington had a fight in December 1977. Rudy Tomjanovich of The Rockets sustained injuries among them a broken nose which healed five months later. He exemplified the NBA face mask purpose.


NBA’s face mask’s contemporary design debuted in 1990. Before that, players wore safety masks that resembled vintage hockey masks. Everything was different until Bill Laimbeer of the Detroit Pistons needed a mask due to a fractured cheekbone and Jerry McHale took the design baton.

McHale was hired to create a face mask to offer the wearer the most security and comfort possible. McHale is an orthotist and medical professional specialising in creating prostheses and other supportive medical devices. The outcome was the contemporary plastic face mask.

face mask NBA

Kyrie Irving in a face mask. Photo/

Decades later, high-quality masks are still produced using McHale’s design with a change of material used. He captured the impression of the face and made it out of plaster. Fast forward to 2023, many modern practitioners now employ lasers in design.

Then, using that impression, a model of the player’s face is created covered with plastic fitted and molded to mimic the player’s facial features. A personalized mask offering both comfort and security comes to reality as well as answering NBA face mask purpose questions.


Memphis Grizzlies player Ja Morant is among those with a tall NBA face mask purpose tale to tell. He played a few of 2022/23 matches in the protective mask in a bid to recover from a broken nose injury, a nasal fracture precisely. He was then suspended for eight games by the Grizzlies over a gun incident which the police cleared him of.

Morant live-streamed his night in a club with what appeared to be a firearm at the beginning of March 2023. He was all excited rapping and dancing at the club when a gun was spotted on his table. This made him miss at least 10 games and he apologised about it before deleting all his social media pages.

“I’m sorry to my family, teammates, coaches, fans, partners, the city of Memphis and the entire Grizzlies organization for letting you down. I’m going to take some time away to get help and work on learning better methods of dealing with stress and my overall well-being,” he posted.


The Los Angeles Lakers star drew attention after winning against the New York Knicks by donning a black carbon-fibre mask to protect his broken nose. He was at the time playing for Miami Heat. Following the attention he brought to the floor, the league asked him to use a more conventional face mask in his subsequent games.


LeBron James’ incident wasn’t the first and most intriguing one because there was no concrete reason in banning his carbon-fibre face mask. The first athlete to receive a sanction for the NBA face mask purpose use during play was Mookie Blaylock of the Portland Trailblazers in 1998. He threw down his mask after making a shot and was assessed a flagrant foul no. 2. The precise rationale for the NBA’s mask restriction, though, is still unknown.

Teresa is a journalist with years of experience in creating web content. She is a wanderlust at heart, but an outgoing sports writer with focus on tennis, athletics, football, motorsports and NBA.

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