Why Do NBA Players Wear Masks? Do They Have To?


You must’ve seen at least one basketball facemask game by now, and some even wear goggles.

But the main question is: why do NBA players wear masks?

Let’s unveil the mystery behind the masks and goggles, the players wearing them, and why.

Five Reasons Why Do NBA Players Wear Masks?

The primary reason why NBA players wear masks is for protection. Wearing a mask protects players’ faces from injuries caused by accidental hits.

For instance, there’s always a good chance for a rebound battle or loose ball competition to go wrong. However, there are also other reasons why players decide to wear a mask.

Here are 5 of the most common reasons for NBA masks wearing on the court.

Playing With Face Injuries

Sustaining a face injury is nothing new to players that play in one of the biggest sports leagues in the world. This is why basketball players wear masks – to protect themselves from further injuries.

The usual facial injuries include fractures on the cheekbones, orbital bones, cheek broads, or jawbones.

For Protection

Players with injuries that don’t exclude them from the action on the court wear a mask to prevent further damage.

Though some players wear a mask without a doctor’s recommendation, they do this for pure protection — because dodging elbows, hands, and knees isn’t an easy-to-do task when players are in full steam.

A Player’s Signature

All players are trying to be as unique as possible. For some basketball players, that’s a different hair colour; for others, wristbands, arm/leg sleeves, etc. While some make a face mask their signature when on the court.

Also read: Who is the best young player in the league right now?

Protecting a Broken Nose

As you might assume, earning a broken nose while playing with NBA superstars shouldn’t be mission impossible.

Players with broken noses agree on wearing face masks to prevent injuries that can put them away from basketball for an extended period.

Though face masks seem pretty uncomfortable, they contribute to speeding up the healing process of a broken nose or other facial injuries.

To Make a Statement On The Court

The face mask NBA players wear isn’t always for protection only. Some players wear it to make a statement on the court, i.e., stand out in the crowd.

And this works with the fans since they can’t help but react to this type of statement.

For example, let’s refresh your memory of the 2012 season when Kobe showed up wearing a custom-made black face mask.

No, it wasn’t Batman; instead, it was the Black Masked Mamba that stole the 2012 show.

The Most Famous NBA Players Who Have Worn Masks

These are the names of some NBA superstars who had to wear masks.

Russel Westbrook

photo source: welcometoloudcity

The 9x NBA all-star first wore a mask at the Oklahoma City Thunder vs Philadelphia 76ers match (2015).

Russel earned a cheekbone fracture during the Oklahoma City Thunder vs Portland Trail Blazers game (March 2015). The reason for it was an accidental knee blow in his face from his teammate Andre Robinson.

Fortunately, the mask didn’t stop Westbrook from getting a career-high 49 points in a game.

Kobe Bryant

photo source: sports.yahoo

One of the biggest NBA legends, Kobe Bryant, had to wear a mask due to a nose injury.

At the NBA All-Star game (2012), Bryant received a hit in the face during gameplay from Dwayne Wade, resulting in a broken nose. But not even a bloody nose stopped Kobe from taking the Western Conference to victory (152 points).

Kobe wore a face mask to prevent further injuries in the game against Minnesota Timberwolves. However, the mask didn’t stop him from scoring 31 points and keeping his high-level game.

Also read: Basketball hoops: Single rim vs Double rim

LeBron James

photo source: usatoday

One of the most decorated NBA players, LeBron, had to wear a mask on two different occasions, in 2005 (Cavaliers) and in 2014 (The Heat).

He wore a clear mask after Dikembe Mutombo fouled him so hard that it broke his cheekbone in a Cleveland Cavaliers vs Houston Rockets game.

However, the real boom was in 2014, when he appeared with a customized black mask in the Miami Heat vs New York Knicks match. The player had to wear the mask to avoid getting more serious injury since Ibaka’s blow in the face already broke his nose.

Related: Which NBA players have signature shoe deals?

Kyrie Irving

photo source: cbsnews

Irving, too, wore a face mask twice due to sustained injuries. He first put on a mask after a broken jaw earned in a Cleveland Cavaliers vs Milwaukee Bucks match (2012).

So, the Knicks saw a different Irving, with an all-black mask on — as if he came out of an action movie. Interestingly, though the Cavs lost the game, Irving scored his all-time 41 points in a game.

Later, in 2019, during a scrimmage with a Brooklyn Nets teammate, Irving got an elbow in the face – earning a face fracture.

Joel Embiid

photo source: espn

The 76er’s centre, Embiid, and his team colleague Fultz collided heads during gameplay against the Knicks (2018).

However, Joel had to undergo surgery to repair the orbital fracture around the left eye socket. But he showed up just in time for the 2018 NBA playoffs with a high-profile dynamic mask on his face.

Related: Is Embiid among the players with the largest hands in the NBA?

Where Can You Buy Basketball Masks?

Basketball masks can be easily purchased from several manufacturers. Though, our research showed that the following mask-makers are one of the most reliable in today’s market.

MUELLER Sports Medicine Face Guard

The MUELLER face guard protects from multiple face injuries (nasal, maxillary, orbital and zygomatic). Moreover, their masks are intended for various sports (football, baseball, etc.), not just basketball.

Following their customer reviews, the mask should be a good fit and keep you comfortable while recovering and playing simultaneously. Consequently, the comfort they offer is enabled by the materials used – in this case, shatterproof medical-grade polycarbonate.

Additionally, the mask provides improved clarity and adjustable harness straps to eliminate shifting. Alongside the face guard, you get XPE foam padding for enhanced protection.

Qiancheng Nose Guard Face Shield

The QianCheng nose guard/face shield is a pull-on protection made of silicone in black colour. This particular size is a large one, and if you need another mask size, we recommend you follow their measures before ordering.

The most reliable measurement would be the width of your cheekbones. The protective mask comes with a fully adjustable harness that prevents shifting when in movement.

Why Do NBA Players Wear Goggles?

Besides face masks, NBA players wear goggles as a protective accessory.

Basketball, in general, is a high-contact sport. Therefore, eye injuries (like poking) occur pretty frequently. There are also prescription goggles that provide greater visibility to players that need them, hence, avoiding uncomfortable lenses.

And, when an opportunity presents itself to drink champagne, players like wearing goggles. They wear them not only to avoid the cork hitting their eye but moreover to prevent the champagne from getting to their eyes.

* Champagne is known for causing awful eye irritations.

Popular NBA Players Who Have Worn Goggles

These are the names of some of the best players in the NBA that have worn goggles throughout their careers.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

photo source: silverscreenandroll

Abdul-Jabbar is possibly the first player that brought goggles to the NBA basketball court. In 1968, as a player for the University of California, Kareem had his cornea scratched during gameplay, so he started wearing goggles as a precaution.

And when that happened once more in 1974 while playing against the Milwaukee Bucks, Jabbar decided not to risk losing his eyesight permanently, so goggles became his signature.

Also read: Top 10 all-time NBA coaches rankings

Horace Grant

photo source: bleacherreport

Horace was one of the heaviest basketball players and he reached for the goggles not because of an injury but rather because he was nearsighted. However, even after having Lasik eye surgery done, he decided to stick to wearing prescription goggles.

Grant wore them because of the impact they had on young children globe-wide. Most kids were laughed at because they needed protective sports glasses, so Horace became their role model.

Tony Parker

photo source: zimbio

Parker accepted wearing goggles after he found himself on a New York night out that went out of control in 2012. During the melee in a club, pieces of glass from smashed bottles penetrated his eye, causing damage that required surgical assistance.

The Sun Antonio point guard had Bollé design his stylish black-rimmed goggles to protect his eyesight. As soon as he got the goggles, Parker stepped onto the court representing his country, France, at the Olympic Games (2012).

Amar’e Stoudemire

photo source: espn

The former basketball star, Stoudemire, wore protective goggles after he suffered a torn iris during a 2008-09 season practice with the Phoenix Suns.

After the injury, Amar’s thought he had lost his sight, but soon, he regained his vision and, after a month’s break, came back wearing goggles. However, due to the discomfort, they caused him, he stopped using them until a second eye injury.

The same season, Al Thorton (LA Clippers) accidentally poked him in the eye, which led to severe damage. Stoudemire ended in a 22-hour surgery to reconnect his retina back in the eye. Afterwards, he never played without the goggles.


Athletes turn to medical sports protective accessories like face masks, nose guards, or (prescription) goggles for additional protection.

However, before purchasing any protection accessory, the best thing is to test different products until you find the right fit since some cause genuine discomfort.


Do masks impact the performance of players?

It depends. Customized masks work better than generic ones since they lay perfectly on the player’s face.

For instance, when wearing a black face mask, Kyrie Irving (2017) had difficulties with peripheral vision. At the same time, Kobe and Westbrook had no problem scoring high points per game (30 on average) with their masks on.

What are the benefits of wearing a mask?

The primary benefit of why do NBA players wear masks is to protect themselves. The mask minimizes the impact and protects the whole face.

If there are present injuries, masks help the recovery process not to be interrupted, thus, keeping basketball players from missing games or an entire season.

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