Turn on any NBA game, and you'll likely see some players sporting arm sleeves. Chris Paul, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George are just a few famous athletes who don these accessories.
If you're an avid basketball fan, you may wonder how this practice became so commonplace. For years, players just wore their jerseys. Are there athletic advantages to arm sleeves, or are they just for show?
In this guide, we'll provide some history behind the arm sleeve and offer several answers to the inquiry Why do basketball players wear sleeves?
The History Behind the Arm Sleeve in Basketball
Have you ever heard of Allen Iverson? He wasn't just a shooting guard and point guard who played 14 seasons with the NBA — he was also the unofficial inventor of the arm sleeve in basketball.
He first wore his arm sleeve during his time with the Philadelphia 76ers. It was the 2000-01 NBA season, and Iverson was suffering from a condition called bursitis in his right elbow.
This condition causes the elbow to become inflamed, and it makes ordinary movements quite painful.
Iverson started wearing a basketball sleeve to combat some of this inflammation. His elbow soon healed, but he continued to wear the sleeve. It became his “thing.”
Little did he know, Iverson started a trend. Fans began to wear arm sleeves of their own, and the NBA started selling them. Other players quickly caught on, and now arm sleeves are popular accessories among basketball players and fans everywhere.
7 Reasons Why Basketball Players Wear Arm Sleeves
As simple as a basketball sleeve may seem, it has multiple purposes. So, Why do basketball players wear sleeves?
We've broken down the reasons why below, so you can better understand the trend.
1) To Facilitate Muscle Compression
Manufacturers often make arm sleeves with elastic yet compressing materials. They fit around users' arms comfortably but tightly to facilitate muscle compression.
Muscle compression will decrease swelling and inflammation, which can both delay players' healing. Arm sleeves combat these issues to help players bounce back from their intense physical activity.
Arm sleeves also encourage muscle stability. This stability helps basketball players stay grounded during unpredictable motions from opponents.
Players need to find the right arm sleeve for them, as one that is too tight can restrict blood flow and lead to muscle aches and strains.
One that's too loose won't offer the compression and stability benefits at all. Plus, an ill-fitting one can become distracting, as a player will constantly have to readjust it during gameplay.
2) To Provide Muscle Warmth
Owners of a sports complex often keep the building circulating with a lot of AC to keep fans happy. However, players may find it hard to get in the zone if they can't warm up.
Luckily, arm sleeves can provide some much-needed muscle warmth.
Warm muscles lead to enhanced flexibility, which is essential for performing clean dribbling, precise passes, and long-range three-point shots.
Wearing a long sleeve shirt underneath a jersey can quickly become much too limiting. Players may sweat excessively and risk overheating. Arm sleeves provide warmth effectively without being too invasive or overwhelming.
3) To Offer Protection from Other Injuries
Arm sleeves aren't all about protecting the internal muscles. They also provide some external protection.
Basketball jerseys are pretty revealing compared to uniforms in other sports. They leave the arms completely exposed.
An arm sleeve provides players with some additional padding that their basketball uniforms lack. One can cushion an athlete's body as he's participating in a ball scramble or fighting for a tipped ball.
An arm sleeve is great for protecting against bruises, scratches, cuts, and sprains.
4) To Manage Superstitions
Remember Allen Iverson from the beginning of this article? He wore his arm sleeve long after his injury had subsided. It became about more than the physical. He believed that it was essential to prevent his pain from returning.
Recovering from an injury is a difficult path to take. Players endure months of physical therapy, medications, and even time off from the game they love. Once they find something that relieves their pain, they may be hesitant to part with it.
Many players, not just Allen Iverson, rely on arm sleeves to help them perform their best. Even though they don't physically need the arm sleeve's support anymore, they believe it'll help them succeed on the court.
Or, wanting to wear an arm sleeve may have nothing to do with a past injury. Many athletes have lucky garments — a golfer may rely on his lucky hat to make it through a tough course, and a runner can lean on his trusty sweatband to get to the end of a challenging sprint.
Arm sleeves are easy to slip on before a big game. Establishing a routine can help players feel more confident and quell any superstitions they have about wearing their lucky garment.
5) To Cover Tattoos
Picture any one of your favorite NBA players. More likely than not, he'll have some kind of body art on display. According to the NPR, more than half of the industry's athletes have at least one tattoo.
The NBA has arguably strict regulations regarding tattoos, despite their prevalence.
Family members' names and basic images, like dragons and compasses, are fine for the most part, as long as they don't have the potential to offend anyone.
Its rules prevent players from flaunting any kind of body art that promotes a charitable, promotional, or commercial cause.
If a player has a rule-breaking tattoo on his arm, he can easily use a sleeve to cover it up. This material will help him focus on performing without worrying about facing fines or upsetting fans and his managers.
6) To Protect Themselves from the Sun
Most professional basketball games take place on indoor courts. However, pro players may find themselves playing on outdoor courts because of charity events or practice sessions.
In any case, they may need to protect themselves from the sun's harsh UV rays.
Players with preexisting conditions, like dermatitis or a sun allergy, will find it difficult to spend hours at a time in the sun's light. An arm sleeve can limit their exposure, minimize symptoms, and help them focus and play their best.
To shield themselves from the sun, players should pick arm sleeves made from a thicker material like canvas or synthetic fibers. Arm sleeves featuring thin, sheer materials won't do much good when pitted against the sun's UV rays.
7) To Make a Fashion Statement
It's hard to argue that arm sleeves look cool. And sometimes, basketball players wear them solely for aesthetic purposes.
A player and his teammates may wear them to look more like a cohesive unit. It's not uncommon for teammates to wear matching sleeves that represent their team colors.
For example, Kobe Bryant always donned a white or purple armband on his right arm to go with the Los Angeles Lakers color scheme.
Other players prefer to take a more individualized approach. They'll wear arm sleeves as a way to stand out on the court. They'll wear their favorite colors and brands to reflect their unique style.
Conclusion: On Arm Sleeves
As you've learned, there are multiple answers to “Why do basketball players wear sleeves?”
This trend is prevalent on professional courts, but you can also find it in more casual settings. High school teams, pick-up groups, and solo shooters can all benefit from wearing this popular accessory.
Whether you want to wear an arm sleeve to aid in pain relief or boost your confidence, we recommend trying it out! They're affordable, easy to put on, and can last for at least a whole season.