Why Do Basketball Players Wear Masks? Which NBA Players Did?

Have you ever asked yourself why basketball players wear masks? Players have several reasons for wearing a mask while playing the game, but not all of them are straightforward.

For starters, masks help to protect basketball players with facial injuries from sustaining further injury. They also protect players from getting facial injuries in the first place.

But more surprisingly, some basketball players wear masks to make a statement. In this post, we look deeper into the history of NBA players wearing masks and their reasons for choosing to wear them.

We'll also highlight some famous players that made a mark on the game wearing masks.

The History of NBA Players Wearing Masks

Basketball players have worn masks while playing since the 1980s. Masks enabled injured players to continue playing as they healed and prevented them from sustaining further injuries on the court.

Masks give players a chance to contribute to their teams' success while helping them avoid being benched for long periods due to minor facial injuries.


In the 2000s and 2010s, many players wore black masks, which gave them mystical and dark appearances, with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kobe Bryant being the most famous.

Today, most basketball players wear transparent masks that don’t distract from the game.

Today, we cannot ignore the impact the Coronavirus pandemic has had on the game. In February 2021, the NBA issued a mask mandate, requiring all basketball players to wear KF94 or KN95 masks during league games to mitigate the virus's spread among coaches, staff, and players.

KF94 and KN95 masks have the superior air filtration qualities found in medical N95 masks, which can keep Covid-19 from spreading from one person to the next. These two masks are proven to capture 94% and 95% of air particles, respectively.

The NBA issued this mask mandate to avoid postponing more games as they had already postponed 23 games in the season on health and safety grounds.

Top Reasons Why NBA Players Wear Masks While Playing

NBA Players Wear Masks for Protection from Injuries

NBA players wear masks to protect themselves from facial injuries.

While on the court, basketball players can sustain any number of facial injuries from the ball, accidental hits, nudges, and collisions with the basket, pole, rim, and other fixtures inside and surrounding the playing area.

If they had an existing injury, further contact could aggravate it and prolong the healing process. In most cases, players wear masks to protect against nasal and chin injuries.


NBA Players Wear Masks to Play with Injuries

Masks are not the most comfortable gear to wear, but they enable already injured basketball players to continue playing while healing.

Most coaches would not allow a player with facial injuries to continue playing unprotected since the result would be further deterioration of the facial injury already in place.

NBA Players Wear Masks to Stand Out On-Court

Basketball players wearing masks on the court brings a whole level of excitement and anticipation to the game.

A case in point is Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Both players wore black masks at some point in their careers.

This simple gesture catapulted them to cult status, with many referencing superhero comparisons when describing their appearance on the court.

Related: Best Basketball Face Masks (For Broken Nose and Protection)

Famous NBA Players Wearing Masks

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant wore a mask while playing in 2012 after he suffered a nasal fracture from Dwayne Wade in the All-Star Game.

Interestingly, the mask became a popular piece of sports memorabilia and sold for $67,000 at a charity auction due to his celebrity status.


Kahwi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard is famous for wearing a face mask that covered only his lower face to prevent his earlier mouth laceration injury from teammate Serge Ibaka from getting worse.

While it got him several humorous comparisons to Hannibal Lecter, the mask played an essential role in protecting Leonard from a further facial injury.

Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving has worn a mask for various reasons in his career. His most notable game with a mask was with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2012 at Madison Square Garden when he wore the black Zoro mask to protect his broken jaw bone.

Interestingly, he scored a career-high 41 points that game.

In 2013, Irving donned a mask for the second time in his career, this time wearing a clear mask to protect his broken nose.

LeBron James

LeBron James famously wore a black face mask back in 2014, and on different occasions, wore transparent masks when he sustained injuries from play.

Not only did the black mask make him memorable in the eyes of fans and the media, but it also earned him the nickname "the dark knight.”

However, the NBA ended up banning black masks as it gave James an advantage over fellow players.

Richard Hamilton

Rich Hamilton wore a mask for four years. The most memorable game he played with his mask on was in the 2004 NBA finals when the Detroit Pistons faced the Los Angeles Lakers.

Hamilton was instrumental in pushing the Pistons to a 2-1 game advantage.

J.R. Smith

In a 2014 Knicks against Kings game at the Garden, J.R. Smith donned a protective mask while playing with a fracture to his left cheekbone.

The injury ended his 12-game streak of double-digit scoring, but Smith returned to form, scoring 19 points in a win against the New Orleans Hornets later that year.

Tracy McGrady

In the 2006-2007 NBA basketball season, Tracy McGrady had to wear a mask when he got elbowed in the face. The mask enabled him to heal faster and better as he played and protected him from further injury.

Final Thoughts

Basketball players wear masks to keep them from sustaining an injury on the court and getting further injuries.

Masks are also essential in speeding up the healing process and enable key players to continue playing the game safely while recovering from a previous facial injury.

Joshua Bast

My name is Joshua Bast and I have been playing basketball ever since I was 7 years old. I love the game play, I love the feeling whenever I score a basket, but what made me fell in love was the camaraderie with my team mates. This blog is dedicated to help any up-and-coming basketball players maximize their potential.

Joshua Bast