One of the greatest NBA players of all time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is known for quite many things: his gangly, 7’2” stature, his signature sky hook shot, and his record as the all-time NBA scoring leader. But one thing that made him quite distinctive was his choice of eyewear he wore when he was on the court.
Why did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wear goggles? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar started wearing goggles in 1975, after repeatedly being scratched and poked in the eyes. Abdul-Jabbar would suffer from multiple corneal abrasions, and the pain and irritation led him to wear protective goggles for most of the remainder of his NBA career.
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Why did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar get repeatedly scratched and poked in the eyes?
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of the tallest players to step on an NBA court, towering at 7 feet, 2 inches. Kareem also had one move in his arsenal, known as the “Sky Hook,” that is historically remembered as one of the most unguardable shots in history. Combining the two facts, that he was impressively tall and his shot was difficult to block, made him an opposing defender’s nightmare. But they had to at least try to guard him, but their attempts often ended up reaching Kareem’s eyes only, which bore the damage. Kareem’s eye problems started at UCLA, before he had even begun his professional career. There is also a definite possibility that Kareem’s opponents purposefully aimed for his eyes, as they could not guard him otherwise.
What would happen when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was scratched and poked in the eyes?
When poked or scratched in the eyes, Kareem would receive what is called a corneal abrasion. This causes harsh irritation in the eyes and sensitivity to light. Kareem received so many abrasions that doctors said that scar tissue had built up on his eye. Eventually Kareem developed recurrent corneal erosion syndrome, which caused him pain when his eyes dried up.
Due to his eye injuries and chronic pain, Kareem would have to miss games occasionally, in college and the NBA. The frustration of such injuries also got to him, as after once being scratched in the eyes during a game, Kareem angrily punched the backboard stanchion, which caused him to break two bones in his hand. This incident caused him to miss 16 games, but eye injuries would usually rule out Kareem for two or three games.
When did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar start wearing goggles?
Kareem started wearing goggles for eye protection after returning from the incident in which he broke his hand in frustration from being scratched in the eye. This was during the 1975-1976 season, his final season with the Milwaukee Bucks. Kareem was insistent on wearing goggles, and once sat on the bench on a road game as he had forgotten his goggles back in Milwaukee.
Once he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, Kareem rarely played without his goggles. However, he did not wear the goggles in the 1979 playoffs, and did not wear them for a while. But he was eventually poked in the eye again in October 1980, which saw him miss two games and come back wearing the goggles. Kareem had become so synonymous with his goggles that during his final game with the Lakers, every Lakers player came on to the court wearing goggles as a tribute to Kareem.
What other NBA players have notably worn goggles during their playing career?
Kareem was not the only notable NBA player to wear goggles for eye protection. You need not look further than his own Lakers teammate, James Worthy. In the 1984-1985 season, Worthy suffered a scratched cornea; no doubt inspired by teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Worthy donned the goggles to protect his eyes, and wore it for the rest of his career. Another notable case is Amar’e Stoudemire, who partially tore his iris during a pre-season game, then suffered a horrific eye injury later that season that resulted in his retina being detached from his eye. After a lengthy surgery, Stoudemire returned to the court wearing goggles that he would keep for the rest of his playing career.
Goggles aren’t only for eye protection, but sometimes they are for vision enhancement as well. Kurt Rambis, another one of Kareem’s Lakers teammates, had poor vision, which required him to wear thick black-rimmed glasses on the court. Like Kareem, Rambis was synonymous with his glasses: Lakers announcers used to call him “Superman” (due to his resemblance to Clark Kent with his glasses), and Rambis had his own fan club which would sit in the stands wearing similar glasses.
In the 1990s, star player Horace Grant also suffered from poor vision, so he wore goggles when he played. While sometimes opponents would swipe Grant’s goggles off of his face, Grant would experiment playing certain games without them, although his performance was adversely affected without his goggles. Grant continued to wear goggles even after having a corrective LASIK procedure for his eyesight, after hearing from many parents that he inspired kids to be confident in wearing goggles when playing sports.
Other notable players to have donned the goggles, albeit for a short period of time, include Hakeem Olajuwon, Ben Wallace, and Dwyane Wade, among others.
What other NBA players are synonymous with the injury-related accessories they wore?
Accessories for injury prevention and protection aren’t uncommon in the NBA. One of the most popular accessories is the face mask that players wear usually after breaking their nose or other facial injuries. Many stars of the league throughout the years have donned the mask, including Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Bill Laimbeer. The one player who was truly synonymous with the face mask was Richard “Rip” Hamilton, who famously broke his nose twice in the 2003-2004 season. He wore a clear, protective mask for the rest of his career, but the year he put on the mask, he led the Pistons to winning an NBA championship.
The goggles that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wore were just one of the symbols of his iconic place in NBA history. His stint with the “Showtime” Lakers was dominated by him wearing goggles, even along with some of his teammates. Kareem’s dedication to wearing goggles to protect his eyes was just a part of his rigorous self-care routine, which allowed him to play a long and successful career.