Asked by the NBA to replace his black protective face mask with a transparent one, LeBron James shrugged his massive shoulders and switched. James broke his nose last week, and the visual power of his return to the court in the cowl-like black mask drew comparisons to everything from Batman and burkas. (Well now it’s drawn the burka comparison, anyway.) James went on record to say the NBA’s reasons “didn’t make sense” to him, but he complied. James isn’t the first player who’s been asked by the league to show his face. Cleveland Cavaliers star guard Kyrie Irving briefly wore a black mask last season to protect a broken bone in his face, and Los Angeles Lakers royalty Kobe Bryant also wore a black mask for a minute in 2012 after breaking his nose.
So what’s the fuss all about? Most fans voiced their approval. And one suspects Anna Wintour loved it. But these guys have a big influence–black mask t-shirts were already selling in Miami–and the NBA cultivates its image with the care of an orchid grower. LeBron James is the face of the NBA. It’s only fair that people get to see it. Was there more to it than that? Bank robbers and other predators are even more likely than superheroes to wear masks. Covering your face is really just not a popular choice in Western democracies. Ask Edward Snowden: this is the age of transparency. Back to that influence, can you picture a nation of kids playing basketball in black face masks? Mask maker Jeremy Murray, a certified orthotist and registered occupational therapist at the Michigan Hand & Sports Rehab Center in Warren, Michigan says kids send him emails writing ‘Because Rip Hamilton wears his mask, I wear mine.’ (The former Piston’s All-Star guard Rip Hamilton was the only NBA player to wear a protective, albeit translucent, face mask in every game.) One thing you can bet on most weeks: LeBron James’ style is trending.