May 20, 2024

Should Anthony Davis wear goggles?

The ayes — and eyes — have it.

The Lakers star left a pivotal home game after getting poked in the left eye for the second time in less than a month Sunday in a 127-117 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Davis exited an eventual loss to the Golden State Warriors in the first quarter after he took a shot to the same eye March 16.

Wearing protective goggles long has been a sensible decision for many NBA players — especially big men prone to battling opponents in close quarters, elbows and fingers flying.

No word on whether Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has reached out to Davis the way he did to rookie Thurl Bailey of the Utah Jazz after James Worthy — another goggles guy — inadvertently scratched Bailey’s cornea during a game in 1984. Bailey donned an eye patch at halftime and Abdul-Jabbar pulled him aside when he walked past the Lakers bench and displayed his goggles.

“Young fella, you need to get you some of these,” Bailey recalled Abdul-Jabbar telling him. “And I tried them and loved them and they worked.”

Thanks in large part to superstars Abdul-Jabbar and Worthy, goggles became somewhat popular, with even Larry Bird famously fashioning a pair on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1988.

Another breakthrough came when ophthalmologist Dr. Bruce Zagelbaum studied eye injuries in the NBA over a 17-month period in 1992 and 1993. He concluded that almost every eye injury on the court was preventable.

Of the 59 injuries Zagelbaum chronicled, 30 were abrasions or lacerations to the eyelid, 17 contusions to the eyelid or periorbital region, seven were corneal abrasions, three were orbital fractures and two were unspecified. Only two of the 59 players wore protective eyewear when the injuries occurred.

The use of goggles increased among youth athletes across many sports in the 1990s, and the Lakers remained on the forefront in the NBA. Worthy and longtime Lakers athletic trainer Gary Vitti met with a sunglasses manufacturer who designed goggles that didn’t fog up or cause skin abrasions.

“They go around the cheekbone and are sanded on the bottom so it doesn’t rip the skin,” Vitti told The Times in 1994. “As for fogging, we drilled holes in the plastic at the side of the nose and that worked.”

Prominent players who consistently wore goggles included Hakeem Olajuwon, Amar’e Stoudemire, Dwyane Wade, Horace Grant, Reggie Jackson and Bo Outlaw. Besides Abdul-Jabbar and Worthy, Kurt Rambis is a former Lakers player whose look included protective eyewear.

And let’s not forget LeBron James, who has worn protective eyewear off and on during his 21-year career. Of course, he’s also donned ski goggles whenever he and his teammates celebrate championships by spraying Champagne on one another.

James also tried on goggles for giggles when Wendell Carter Jr. of the Orlando Magic had his pair knocked off his head during a 2021 game against the Lakers. James picked them up, strapped them on and leaned his head back as if to say, “Woah.” Later he tweeted, “Was seeing if I could improve my vision out there.”

Goggles were no laughing matter to Abdul-Jabbar, who began wearing them in the 1970s after suffering repeated eye injuries.

“It certainly kept my career on line,” he told The Times in 1994. “If I hadn’t worn goggles, I would’ve retired early. My face was right in the area where people were swinging at the ball. First time in the pros I was hurt so bad I lashed out in pain and broke my hand.”

He didn’t care how his goggles looked. They weren’t a fashion statement for Abdul-Jabar.

“I started wearing goggles 20 years ago and nobody was wearing them then,” he said. “People would mention it but nobody ridiculed me. I remember a couple of times I could hear the click of somebody’s nails on my glasses and I knew I was doing the right thing. Tell kids don’t worry what other people think about [goggles]. Your eyes are crucial to your life.”

As well as crucial to keeping Davis on the floor as the Lakers fight for playoff seeding. Davis wore goggles during the Lakers’ 2020 NBA championship season, a look that met with James’ approval when he titled it “Anthony Jabbar-Davis” on social media.

Are the two eye injuries so close together with the playoffs looming enough to prompt Davis to wear goggles again? He’s got until Tuesday night’s regular-season home finale against Golden State to decide.

The words of Vitti, who retired in 2016 after 32 years as Lakers athletic trainer, still resonate.

“We can encourage [players] to wear goggles, but you can’t make them wear them,” he said. “The only guys who do wear them are the guys with eye injuries — they get a little gun-shy and wear them.”


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