Here’s Why Basketball Players Wear Masks & Which Are the Best

why do basketball players wear masks
Basketball is full of interesting questions that deserve to be answered. If you’ve ever wondered why basketball players wear those clear face plastic masks or how to choose one for yourself, we have the answers.

In short, basketball players wear protective face masks as the precaution for many potential face injuries. They also wear it if they already suffered an injury and they don’t want to get hurt again. And finally, they wear it because let’s face it, masks look cool and make them look like superheroes.

Back in the ’80s, basketball players who injured a face in any way had only two options. The first one was to stay on the bench or in the crowd and wait for time to pass, their wounds to heal, and the second was to put on a one-size-fits-all mask that didn’t really fit and risk even worse injury.

Today, basketball clear face masks are something like a badge of honor, especially in young players. It means you work hard, don’t want to miss any games and you’re tough enough to play through an injury.

Here are the three most common reasons why basketball players wear masks, and then we’ll try to find one for you.

1.) Precaution

Basketball players who never had any facial injuries don’t care about this kind of protection, and that’s fine. But those who did feel consequences almost every single practice and game. And if there’s anything we should care about, that’s health. The results, they come and go, but injuries are, unfortunately, forever.

It’s best not to get yourself in a similar situation. If you’ve injured your face before, it’s so much better to count on it again. Wear a plastic mask for a while, don’t let something terrible happens and play peacefully. With time, you’ll get back on track and take the mask off.

2.) Playing with a broken nose, cheekbone injuries

With so many elbows in the game, it’s sometimes hard to stay away from one. A broken nose is not a common injury, but it does happen. Protective mask will help to keep the nose bone in check and protect your nose if you get hit once again.

Russell Westbrook, with fractured cheekbones, had surgery before wearing the protective face mask. When you’re playing aggressively as Russ, you can count on an elbow in the face once and then. Mike Conley, also a point guard, had a broken bone that led to his eyes. Sometimes ballers can’t wait to get back to basketball, and wearing a basketball face mask for a broken nose is the least they can do to speed up the process of returning.

3.) Masks look cool and intimidating

It’s a fact, don’t try to deny it. Wearing a mask makes you special on the court, it separates you from the herd, it makes you different. You could say it makes you more like a superhero.

That’s probably how Kobe felt in March of 2012 when he switched from clear face mask to black on one night and stole the show. Or Kyrie when he shot down the Garden of the same year dropping 41.

After Lebron wore it in 2014, him being the real Dark Knight of the NBA, the league decided to forbid black masks. The reason was that because of the shadow around the eyes, other players can’t see his eyes when guarding him, which gives him an advantage. Too bad, it was spectacular.

What are the best generic face masks? Are custom-made protective masks worth money?

For NBA players, buying a custom mask, of course, isn’t a problem, but for some of the younger players, it can be a significant expense. So in HS or college, players are sometimes forced to dive into another solution by wearing generic masks.

Those are cheaper and available immediately, but custom masks fit much better, and they are more visible, although it takes time to get one. After measuring face dimensions by local orthotist, it takes time to make it, plus the shipping time.

Basketball players on any level will prefer the custom-made more, but that doesn’t mean generic face masks can’t do the job.

Even though most of them preferred custom-made, a significant number of high school players reported that they have no problem playing with generic face masks that usually come in sizes small, medium, and large.

While the custom-made face masks are around $600 to $1300 for ordering directly, generic face masks can cost from $30 to $100.

If you’re looking for one, these are the best generic masks currently available on Amazon:

  1. Mueller Sports Medicine Face Guard Protection
  2. Sports Knight™ – Nose Guard/Face Shield with Extra Grip Padding
  3. Qiancheng Nose Guard Face Shield (small size for kids and teenagers)

Don’t worry about the small differences between these three models. Just check if they come in one size, or in usual small/medium/large models.

There is one more thing about masks that coaches often do, especially when talking about younger categories. They use the combo of both; they buy a generic face mask and give to some local company to adjust it to his player’s face dimensions. A pretty good idea if you want a reliable face mask that fits well but you don’t want to spend much on custom-made that you may never need after, or it won’t fit you.

When were the basketball protective masks first introduced in the NBA?

One man changed the game and blessed us with one more piece of protective gear we can use. In the offseason in summer of 1990, Detroit Pistons Bill Laimbeer, who was a tough guy himself, got hit in the face by a teammate. At the time, the Pistons were rocking, Laimbeer was the best big man on the team, and they couldn’t afford to lose him. They were looking for a savior.

They got him in Gerald McHale – orthotist from Detroit who will in future save basketball players from a month of off-time with his invention. His idea was to take a cast of Bill Laimbeer’s face to make sure the mask fits well and to adopt a molded mask used to treat burn scars. The result was more than spectacular. Laimbeer played better than ever, and people started to wonder was he even injured in the first place.

From then on, plenty of basketball players wore masks and felt pretty good about it. For example, you all must remember Rip Hamilton, who actually made protective clear face masks popular, in my opinion. Sure, Lebron James, Kyrie, and Kobe wore them, but he was the only player in the NBA who wore it all the time. At least for most of his career, after he broke his nose twice in the 2003-2004 season.

Many NBA stars are proud to say that basketball has saved their lives, dragged them from dangerous streets, drugs, and violence. However, there are no more than 500 players in the NBA. Not all super-talented basketball players were predestined for success. This is one of the stories from the dark side of the streets.


  1. I need a mask for a basketball player that covers the entire face. She broke her jaw in two places and needs total protection.


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