NBA players sport a plethora of accessories.
The headband is there. The sleeve for shooting. The occasional pair of goggles. Also, the facemask.
Leg accessories, in particular, have grown in popularity: knee sleeves, calf sleeves, 34-length tights, full-length tights, you name it.
While watching this year’s NBA Finals, I noticed that every player in the starting lineups of the Celtics, Bucks, Mavericks, and Suns wore some sort of leg accessory.
That’s a lot! But why do they put them on? Is it just the appearance?
Or are there tangible advantages to wearing compression gear for your legs?
Let us proceed to find out.
why do basketball players wear leg sleeves
Leg accessories have been around for quite some time. Patrick Ewing is almost synonymous with the diaper-like pads he wrapped around his knees, and Michael Jordan was known to rock a calf sleeve on his left leg.
However, leg swag really took off in the early and mid-2000s.
Jerry Stackhouse started it all off with his full-length tights. However, many others followed suit: Kobe, A.I., and D-Wade were all wearing tights in the early and mid-2000s.
That quickly changed when The Commissioner struck.
Tights were banned in 2006 by David Stern, who decided to put an end to them.
Why he imposed the ban remains a mystery. But, having implemented an on- and off-court dress code less than a year before, Stern had already established a reputation as a style connoisseur. As a result, many people believe Stern thought tights were just another strange fashion statement that players were trying to pull on him. He dealt with them appropriately.
However, the ban had no effect on the growing popularity of leg accessories in the NBA.
While players were forced to forego tights, many found workarounds by switching to other compression leg gear. The heavily padded knees of Dwyane Wade come to mind. So do Carmelo Anthony’s calf sleeves from his time with the Nuggets and Knicks.
However, the question of why NBA players wear leg accessories in the first place remains unanswered.
When the ban went into effect, Jerry Stackhouse, the father of tights, lamented that tights were intended to help him with his knee pain.
That seems about right. Leg compression gear, like all basketball compression apparel, is intended to increase blood flow to the muscles. The increased blood flow keeps the muscle tissue warm and may reduce the risk of injury. It can also hasten the recovery of already injured joints and muscles.
Furthermore, many compression garments, such as knee sleeves, include padding, which can protect against rug burns, knocked knees, and other minor contact injuries.
And, given that injuries to the lower extremities are the most common in the NBA, it stands to reason that players do everything they can to protect that area of their bodies.
So, why do NBA players wear so much leg gear? To avoid injury to the most vulnerable body part.
There is only one remaining question.
Tights have made their deserved return now that the NBA is run by a more liberal commissioner in Adam Silver, and we see NBA players wearing both tights and sleeves – sometimes both at the same time.
But which is more appropriate for basketball: tights or sleeves?
They appear to serve the same purpose at first glance: they compress the muscle tissue of the leg to increase blood flow, thereby preventing injury and promoting recovery.
However, each has slightly different advantages:
The Benefits of Tights:
360-degree compression: When you wear full-length tights, your entire leg is compressed, providing support for your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, and knees.
The Benefits of Sleeves:
Targeted compression: Tights offer general compression, but they lack the focused compression that a sleeve will offer. A sleeve will be more appropriate for your purposes if you want to treat or prevent injury to a particular body part.
Strong: Premium sleeves are made of a special sports-knit fabric that provides more support than tights.
Padded protection: Many sleeves come with padding, which provides you with additional defense against contact wounds.