For a reason we can’t explain, some NBA players seem to play differently — or catch fire out of nowhere — when they’re wearing different gear, like hoodies, masks, or headbands.
And if we talk about facemasks, a particular number of players have gone into full-on assassin-mode after putting them on, logging some of the most impressive performances of their careers in the process.
Throughout the course of history, we’ve seen several of these “masked hoopers” put on unreal performances, perhaps to prove their toughness, or perhaps because there is some magic behind the mask. These are the best of them…
Point Guard: Kyrie Irving
The Masked-Kyrie legend began when he was still playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Back then, he suffered a broken jaw and had to protect his face with a black mask as he torched the New York Knicks for 41 points.
Kyrie went on to wear the mask several times later, both with the Cavs again and the Celtics. Over 25 games with the mask on, he averaged 24.2 points, 5.5 assists, 2.1 steals on 46.4 FG%, 38.1 3PT%, and 86.9 FT% per game.
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant suffered a broken nose at the hands of Dwyane Wade, who took a cheap shot at him during the 2012 All-Star Game.
Bryant went on to design his very own black mask because he claimed the clear one was too foggy for him. Still, he only wore that black mask for half a game, proving once again that he’s one of the toughest athletes to ever do it.
Small Forward: Tracy McGrady
There was a time when Tracy McGrady was just unstoppable. There wasn’t a way to guard him or stop him from getting to the rim, and not even a broken nose was going to keep him from scoring.
Jake Voskuhl accidentally elbowed McGrady on the nose and forced him to wear a clear mask for a couple of games, but he didn’t look comfortable at all. Still, that didn’t keep him from averaging almost 25 points a night.
Power Forward: LeBron James
LeBron James has had a lot of legendary performances over his career with his headband on, but masked LeBron has to be by far one of the scariest characters to ever set foot on the NBA hardwood.
After suffering a broken nose vs. the Jazz, LeBron embraced the “Dark Night” Batman look and destroyed the New York Knicks for 31 points on 19 shots, up to the point where the NBA actually asked him to never wear that black mask again.
Center: Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid’s lone weakness is his health, but he wasn’t going to let an orbital bone fracture keep him out of his playoff debut. Thus, he had to wear a black mask with goggles on to make him look even more like a supervillain.
Embiid wasn’t much of a fan of the mask and took it off every time he had a chance to. And, even though Justise Winslow tried to break it a couple of times, he still lit the Heat up for 18.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.3 steals, and 3.0 blocks per game.