24 August 2010
Long before Rip Hamilton made the protective face mask a part of his NBA attire, an original “Bad Boy” Bill Laimbeer used his to intimidate.
That's one way to look at it.
And it’s not a pretty view.
“It plays games with you,” said LaMarcus Aldridge, who felt uncomfortable wearing a protective mask three seasons ago as a rookie with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Back in the day, Aldridge took a shot across the nose from Nene in a game against the Denver Nuggets. Aldridge couldn’t recall all the details surrounding that incident, but he sure remembers one thing vividly.
He hated the mask.
“Your vision just isn’t the same. All of it is different because you can’t see very low below your eye when you look down. I put it on for like the first quarter and never wore it again. I tried it on at practice and I didn’t like it. They (the training staff) tried to get me to wear it but then they gave up on me.”
Jeremy Murray doesn't see it that way.
Murray is a certified orthotist at Michigan Hand and Sports Rehabilitation Centers and works with clients around the world and in a variety of sports. He took over the business from renowned certified orthotist Jerry McHale in 2004. McHale revolutionized face protection by crafting Bill Laimbeer a face mask, and even today Murray is the man behind making Rip Hamilton’s masks.
“The first step toward having a custom facemask made is to have an impression of your face taken. When I see patients at my office I use plaster strips to make a “cast” of the face.
"Once I have an impression, I am able to use that to make a positive mold,” writes Murray.
Guys in the NBA from Detroit to Oklahoma City now help keep these mask-makers in business – one face at a time.
Thunder center Nick Collison broke his nose twice in two years.
As a rookie in 2005 with the Seattle SuperSonics, Los Angeles Lakers center Chris Mihm wacked him across the face, while Steven Hunter of the Phoenix Suns was the culprit in 2007. Three years later, Collison still cringes telling the story about the first time he wore the clear plastic faceguard in a game.
“It pressed on my nose and I got really claustrophobic. I was about to lose it because I couldn’t really breath,” Collison said. “That was a nightmare.”
The history of NBA players who have worn customized protective masks runs deep. From Laimbeer and Hamilton, the former masked men list extends from Alonzo Mourning to Zydrunas Ilgauskas and includes Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Last season alone, Charlie Villanueva, Jason Terry, Manu Ginobili and Hedo Turkoglu (who publicly opposed wearing the mask while in Toronto) wore the thin piece of plastic for protection. But if safety is first, comfort comes in dead last.
“It didn’t fit right,” Collison explained.
“I took it off and threw it into the first row. Our trainer went and got it and made me put it back on after a timeout. The hardest part is looking down for a bounce pass. The nose part kind of gets in your vision and then your peripheral isn’t as good. It’s funny. The two possessions I wasn’t wearing it I dodged a couple Yao Ming elbow like a boxer.”
No one wants to experience that knockout punch. That’s why some players who have hated wearing the protective mask in the past, know the benefits outweigh the negatives.
“It’s not as bad as you might think, but every once and while there’s a ball that you might fumble because you can’t see it as quickly,” added Collison.
“The big thing is to keep it off of your nose. If it’s pressing against your nose at all it freaks you out. It’s kind of a mental thing. If I had to wear it now it really wouldn’t be a problem.”
To this day, the Thunder training staff still packs Collison’s protective faceguard in case of an emergency.
It may be a long time since Laimbeer donned the plastic, but you just never know when and where the next masked man might show up.
For some guys in this league, the plastic face gear is overly annoying and regardless if it's a jacked up nose or busted eye socket, those who have slipped on the mask know what life is like on the other side.
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