Did you ever wonder who invented those freaky NBA face masks players where after they’ve broken a nose or an ortibal bone? Well, turns out it was an orthotist by the name of Gerald McHale. When Pistons star Bill Lambeer had his cheekbone shattered in 1990, the team asked McHale if he could come up with a protective mask that was less cumbersome than a hockey goalie mask. So he adapted custom molded masks traditionally used to treat burns, and the rest is history.
So why do I bring all this up? Because today we’re going to look at the greatest NBA face masks of all time. And while they’re not all the work of Gerald McHale (no relation to Kevin, btw), his finger prints are all over this crucial-but-ridiculous looking piece of equipment.
Take a look.
Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar, wore goggles to protect himself from frequent eye injuries. And the goggles he was famous for were those clear, rec-specs-looking things he wore with the Lakers. However, early in his career, Kareem's gogggle were a little more...conspicuous. In fact, they weren't so much goggles as divers masks.
Of course, strictly speaking, Kareem's early masks aren't the kind we're talking about here, which are the ones worn to protect broken facial bones. But they're also so awesome that we couldn't just NOT mention them, either.
Honorable Mention: Lew Alcindor
No eye holes for Miami Heat great Alonzo Mourning. His mask had a visor-style opening, because some dudes' eyes just need to breathe. Also note the sweet blue padding that made it look like some sort of spaceman from the future.
15. Alonzo Mourning
Rip Hamilton's face mask itself was pretty standard. It was the accoutrements that really pulled the look together. The black straps looked like he had a crazy-ass beard-goatee thing going, and the headband really just tied it all together.
14. Rip Hamilton
Personally, if I were an NBA player and I had to wear a protective face mask, I'd also avoid clear plastic. Why not go with something creepy that will intimidate your opponent—like Kyrie Irving's Batman mask.
13. Kyrie Irving
Obviously, some NBA face masks are still cumbersome, despite the improvements delivered by Gerald McHale. Take Harrison Barnes, here. There's no way this mask is comfortable. And I bet the white pads show up in his peripheral vision, too.
12. Harrison Barnes
Something tells me when Brandon Williams played cops and robbers as a kid, he was always a robber. Call it a hunch.
11. Brandon Williams
Bimbo Coles didn't just have one of the greatest (or is it worst?) nicknames in NBA history. He also had one of the sweetest masks. That said, if it were me I would have had a bird face painted on it for full effect.
10. Bimbo Coles
This is the actual mask worn by Michelle Pfeiffer when she played Cat Woman in Batman Returns. True story.*
9. Kobe Bryant
This mask is notable for a lot of reasons—not just because it's absolutely horrifying.
When J.R. Reid viciously elbowed fellow initialled NBA player A.C. Green in the face back in 1996, knocking out two front teeth, Green had a 785-game ironman streak going and was just 121 games behind Randy Smith for the NBA's all-time record. This creepy-ass mask helped Green play a few minutes per game for a few weeks to keep the streak alive.
Green's ironman streak eventually ended in in 2001 at 1,192 games. He definitely earned that record.
8. A.C. Green
Is it just me, or does Harold Pressley's nose mask look like a weird miniature jock strap?
7. Harold Pressley
LeBron went with the black comic book villain mask for only one game, but went back to opaque-ish white after the internet made fun of him.
Personally, I think it's a real shame. It looked pretty badass with the beard, black headband, and black unis.
6. LeBron James
When I was a kid, former Knicks guard John Starks always seemed like kind of a nerd next to Charles Oakley and Patrick Ewing. So this face mask seems about right.
5. John Starks
Hey, is that DeSanaga Diop, or Nien Nunb, Lando Calrissian's Millennium Falcon copilot in Return of the Jedi?
4. DeSanaga Diop
And the award for "Face Mask that Most Resembles the Haunting Visage of a Dead-Eyed Raven" goes to...Quincy Poindexter!
3. Quincy Poindexter
Say what you want about Will Perdue, the man had team spirit. When he was with the San Antonio Spurs in 1999—winning his fourth ring—he put a a metallic silver finish on his face mask to match his uniform.
2. Will Perdue
The greatest NBA face mask of all time is the first. After getting his face smashed in by Kermit Washington in one of the most famous brawls in sports history, Rudy Tomjanovic missed five whole months with broken jaw and cheek bone.
When he finally returned to the Rockets lineup, he looked more like an NHL goalie than an NBA forward. And it was terrifying.