Why Do NBA Players Wear Masks and Ski Goggles?

Why Do NBA Players Wear Masks and Ski Goggles?

Basketball players, notably those in the NBA, wear masks to shield their faces and noses from injuries incurred during games, particularly from accidental collisions. These masks are typically constructed from robust, transparent materials such as polycarbonate or lightweight carbon-fiber, ensuring both durability and clear visibility during gameplay. After winning a championship, players sometimes wear ski goggles to shield their eyes from champagne and other liquids sprayed during celebrations. “Why Do NBA Players Wear Masks and Ski Goggles?” This also helps prevent the cork from champagne bottles from accidentally hitting players’ eyes, which could cause serious damage, even blindness.

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Which Players Have Worn Masks?

Several players have worn masks during their NBA careers. In 2012, Kobe Bryant wore a mask after breaking his nose, giving himself a superhero look. However, he had to switch masks because the clear one kept fogging up. Later that same year, Kyrie Irving adopted a similar superhero persona, wearing a black mask to protect a broken jaw, earning the nickname “Black Panther”. LeBron James followed suit, donning a jet black carbon-fiber mask to protect his own broken nose.

Richard Hamilton

Richard Hamilton faced the challenge of breaking his nose twice in the 2003-04 season, following a previous break in 2002. Rather than undergoing major nasal reconstructive surgery, he chose to wear a mask throughout his nine-season career. Despite the mask becoming his signature look on the court, Hamilton admitted that wearing it wasn’t something he particularly relished.

Black Panther

The iconic “Black Panther” mask traces back to Kobe Bryant, the original NBA superhero. In 2012, Bryant suffered a broken nose courtesy of Dwyane Wade during the All-Star game. After initially wearing a clear mask for a few games, he introduced something entirely new to the league.

However, during one game, discomfort led him to switch back to the clear mask after shooting 1-of-6 from the field. Unfortunately for the Lakers, this adjustment didn’t pay off, as they lost 88-85 in overtime against the Pistons.

LeBron James

In the 2013/14 NBA season, LeBron James made headlines by donning the “Black Panther” mask during a Heat-Knicks game. He had broken his nose a week earlier against the Thunder and opted to wear the mask to protect it, having missed the previous game against the Bulls. Despite the Knicks losing 108-82, James showcased an impressive performance, scoring 31 points, grabbing four rebounds, and dishing out four assists, undoubtedly aided by his superhero accessory. The black mask perfectly complemented the throwback Heat jerseys.

Kyrie Irving

Before LeBron James made waves with his black mask against the Knicks, Kyrie Irving also showcased his own heroics against New York in 2012. Following Kobe Bryant’s earlier mask debut that year, Irving broke out his own black mask. Despite the Cavs losing to the Knicks 103-102, Irving put on an incredible performance, scoring a career-high 41 points on 15-of-25 shooting from the field.

Joel Embiid

In the 2017-18 NBA season, Joel Embiid made a memorable return to the court after sustaining an orbital fracture. He sported a high-tech mask made of carbon and polycarbonate, complete with goggles. After missing nearly a month of basketball, Embiid returned for the NBA playoffs and delivered a superhero-like performance against the Miami Heat, scoring 23 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and dishing out four assists.

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Which NBA Players Wore Goggles?

While the prevalence of goggles has diminished since the 1980s and 1990s, some NBA players have still opted to wear them. Before the widespread adoption of contact lenses and corrective eye surgery, players relied on prescription goggles to improve their vision on the court. Unlike standard glasses, goggles were more practical for the physical demands of NBA play. However, in modern times, the use of goggles has become increasingly rare.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

During his time at the University of California in 1968, Abdul-Jabbar suffered a scratched cornea, and later in 1974, while playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, he endured another corneal injury that sidelined him for 16 games. Despite having good eyesight, he chose to wear goggles to safeguard his vision. Eventually, he developed corneal erosion syndrome, causing his eyes to dry out easily. Despite this, Abdul-Jabbar went on to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, making his trademark goggles as iconic as his skyhook shot.

Horace Grant: Inspiring Others with Signature Eyewear

In the early 1990s, Horace Grant made goggles his signature look. Despite suffering from nearsightedness and being legally blind, he continued to wear goggles even after corrective surgery. Grant aimed to make wearing goggles cool, hoping to inspire kids who needed them to feel comfortable wearing them. During the 1991 NBA playoffs, New York Knicks’ player Charles Oakley repeatedly knocked Grant’s goggles off, but Grant persevered, even wearing them again in Game 2 of the 1991 NBA Finals, which notably improved his performance.

Tony Parker: From Eye Injury to Fashionable Protection

Tony Parker experienced an eye injury after a night out in New York, resulting in shards of glass entering his eye, requiring surgery for a scratched cornea. To protect his eye, Parker wore stylish black-rimmed glasses, which he also sported while representing France at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Amar’e Stoudemire: Overcoming Adversity with Goggles

During the 2008-09 NBA season, Amar’e Stoudemire faced multiple eye injuries. Initially, he suffered a torn iris in a training incident, causing temporary blindness until his vision returned after a month off the court. Stoudemire then experienced an accidental eye poke that disconnected his retina, requiring a 22-hour operation over ten days to reattach it. From then on, Stoudemire wore goggles for the remainder of his career to protect his eyes.


In the NBA, the use of masks and goggles has been instrumental in protecting players from facial injuries and preserving their vision. Why Do NBA Players Wear Masks and Ski Goggles? From Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s pioneering adoption of goggles to Horace Grant’s iconic eyewear, these protective measures have become emblematic of resilience and determination on the basketball court. Despite advancements in sports technology, the significance of masks and goggles serves as a reminder of the physical demands and risks associated with professional basketball. It highlights the commitment of players to their craft and their willingness to overcome obstacles to achieve success.

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