Four years ago, Rhode Island guard Jarvis Garrett returned from a jaw injury wearing a protective mask covering his whole face except the eyes. They called it ‘the Hannibal Lecter mask’ because of the resemblance to the one worn by actor Anthony Hopkins when the cannibalistic serial killer he was portraying was in prison, and rightfully so, for Jarvis Garrett’s mask also possesses the same horrifying appeal.
Garrett’s mask became popular, for a time. After the Rams lost to Oregon in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the mask became a mere footnote in Rhode Island’s 2016-17 season.
Fast-forward to 2020. The COVID-19 global pandemic is now a huge blow to our way of life. Basketball was put to a screeching halt—from the NBA to playing pickup games in public. Following the ‘new normal’ of wearing face masks when in public and near other people, we can assume that the only safe way to be allowed to play basketball again is if players can play wearing a mask.
Should our situation worsen, expect basketball to go full Jarvis Garrett.
Making basketball players wear full face mask will strike many as outrageous. But it does not mean this idea is without merit. Consider the following:
First, basketball attire has evolved through the years as a result of necessity, sports science, and technology. The increase in the number of items found in a basketball player’s wardrobe is because of performance enhancement as well as support and protection, not so much about fashion and personal style (except for those who wear items for show, for the sake of looking good—a goal often unachieved despite dressing up, but I digress).
Think about it this way: it’s either a full face mask in the gym bag today or a cadaver in the body bag very soon. It is not a difficult choice to make.
Second, this is not the first time a face mask will be worn by a basketball player. What will take some getting used to is watching ten basketball players on the court in full face mask and willing yourself not to think of it as some macabre opera.
Last but not least is moral duty. Let us keep in mind that if and when basketball resumes and a player gets infected, he or she becomes a carrier, who could potentially infect family, friends, and anyone he or she has come in contact with.
Improbable, but not impossible—our mask-wearing norm can extend to playing basketball, and when it does, it will change the game, and there will be a far-reaching ripple effect.
Once the pro leagues (NBA, WNBA, PBA) begin requiring players to wear full face mask during games, expect companies producing athletic wear and protective gear to spend money on research and development to fast track production of prototypes. The goal is to produce the Jarvis Garrett full face mask 2.0, with improved protective features, less uncomfortable, less restricting, and yes, less horrifying to look at.
The mask will become part of the team uniform, and players will wear masks designed to match team color and aesthetics. Graphic artists will have a grand time designing mockups, that’s for sure. This is, after all, unexplored territory.
And it won’t be long before we start seeing branded logos on masks too. A basketball player’s face—especially those belonging to high-profile pros—is valuable real estate. That’s Marketing 101.
Expect this new product to fly off the shelf once sold to the public, and expect consumers to find a way to make this fashionable the same way they made the humble cotton face mask hip when the COVID-19 pandemic required everyone to cover their mouths. Graffiti artists will start customizing masks. Those who can’t afford can settle for mass-produced or custom-designed decals. Masks will be sold in online shops in different colorways. Pro athletes will sign their masks to give to fans—only after completely sanitizing it first with the help of the team’s medical personnel, and assuming fans are allowed to watch live games once again.
This could be basketball’s brave new world.
But then again, I’m just imagining things, standing behind a padlocked gate and staring at an empty basketball court, wondering when I can play basketball again, when I can watch basketball games again, when basketball will feel normal again.