After breaking his nose while dunking on Serge Ibaka during a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder and sitting out the Miami Heat's next game against the Chicago Bulls, LeBron James said he would wear a face mask to protect his nose in returning to the lineup against the New York Knicks on Thursday night. While many expected him to wear a standard clear plastic mask in his comeback, he instead took the floor wearing a striking black carbon-fiber mask and went on to perform brilliantly, scoring 31 points on 13 for 19 shooting to go with four rebounds and four assists in 36 1/2 minutes as Miami hammered the woeful Knicks, 108-82.
While James' mask drew all sorts of attention on television, social media and beyond, it also drew the attention of the NBA's league office ... and while they're not necessarily the fashion police, they have called foul on James' choice of face-wear, and have asked him to make a change before Miami's Saturday night meeting with the Orlando Magic, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com:
"It is our understanding LeBron used the black mask because a clear one he was comfortable with wasn't ready," NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.
James appealed the decision and is still trying to get clearance to wear the black mask because he likes the lightness and fit of it, a source said. He also said he liked the style and how it matched the Heat's black throwback uniforms. [...]
The black mask was a huge hit among fans, and James and several teammates posted pictures with it on social media. On Friday, the Heat started selling T-shirts with a masked James on them.
"Only LeBron can make breaking your nose look cool," Heat forward Shane Battier said.
James isn't the first player in recent years to choose a black mask only to change course toward the more common clear alternative, whether of his own devices or due to a league request.
After sustaining a concussion and a broken nose on a foul by Dwyane Wade during the 2012 NBA All-Star Game, Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant returned to the court with a clear model before switching to a thin, Kato-evoking black mask that he said felt more comfortable than the other options available to him. He switched back to the clear one, though, after shooting 2 for 10 from the floor in the first half of his first game with the black mask.
After breaking a bone in his face in December 2012, Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving also donned a black mask — albeit a more full-faced version — and promptly scored a career-high 41 points on 15 for 25 shooting against the Knicks. The league asked him to switch to a clear model as soon as he had one available, and he obliged.
The switch itself isn't a problem — James had practiced with a clear mask for two days before deciding do go all-black-everything against the Knicks — and Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra says his star's on-board with doing what's been asked of him:
Spoelstra says LeBron will comply with NBA's request & choose from a selection of league-approved mask designs tonight— Michael Wallace (@WallaceNBA_ESPN) March 1, 2014
That said, according to Windhorst, James "still may find a way to personalize" the clear mask. I'm not sure if he can work any Marvel or DC motifs, or some other sort of unique design element, into the clear canvas, but if he shoots 68 percent of the floor in another blowout win, I'm sure plenty of folks will still see a superhero when they look at that masked man. (Or if they're Magic fans, I suppose, a supervillain.)
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