NBA FACE MASKS

It’s common to see people walking around with face masks on now. There’s one place where wearing a face mask still makes a bold statement: The NBA. Protective face masks have been around since the 70’s and they were just as much of a conversation piece back then. They looked more like something from a horror movie than the sleek masks we see today (seriously, Google it). Masks today are better in just about every way.

Basketball players get injured just like any other athlete. Many of those injuries come in the form of elbows to the face and could possibly lead to weeks or even months of sidelined star players. Fortunately, there’s a mask for that.

A Little History

The modern version of the NBA face mask was introduced in 1990. Before that players wore protective masks that looked more like old school hockey masks than the masks players wear today. That all changed when the Detroit Piston’s Bill Laimbeer needed a mask after suffering a fractured cheekbone. Enter Jerry McHale.

McHale was an orthotist (a doctor who specializes in making prosthetics and other supportive medical devices) who was commissioned to design a face mask that could provide maximum protection and comfort for the wearer. The modern plastic face mask was the result.

McHale’s process is still used to make those professional grade masks. An impression is taken of the face. He used plaster, but many of today’s doctors use lasers. A model of the player’s face is then made from that impression. From there, plastic is fitted over the model and shaped based on the contours of the player’s face. The end result is a customized mask that provides both comfort and protection.

Getting Better & Better

Face masks are typically made from PETG (polyethylene terephthalate glycol...now say it 5 times fast). PETG is a very durable thermoplastic that is comparable to polycarbonate in terms of impact resistance. It’s great for vacuum forming, routing, bending, and die cutting. It’s even used in 3D printing. It’s characteristics make it the ideal material for protective face masks.

Innovations are still happening. In April of 2018, Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers returned to the court wearing a starkly different mask from those we had previously seen. It was made from a combination of polycarbonate and carbon fiber. And it was specially fitted with goggles. It looked quite futuristic to say the least.

Gear Up

NBA players aren’t the only athletes to wear protective face masks, though. In years past we’ve commonly seen soccer players wear masks. There are even commercially available versions for amateur athletes. These are commonly made from polycarbonate, but they work well and are widely available.

Basketball is one of the few sports in which players don’t wear much gear--no pads, helmets, or gloves. It’s not exactly a no contact sport, though. Players get injured all the time. Thankfully, innovations in the medical and plastic industries have come a long way. And we’re continuing to innovate and develop devices that make everyone safer.

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