Why Do Basketball Players Wear Sleeves? (9 Wacky Reasons)

Basketball players’ arms are as crucial to their success as the wings of an eagle. Just as an eagle uses its wings to soar high in the sky, a basketball player uses his arms to perform critical maneuvers on the court.

Whether a hooper performs a monstrous block that changes the course of a game or a high-flying dunk that electrifies the crowd, it all starts with the arms.

So why do basketball players wear sleeves?

Basketball players’ arms are integral to their game. The nine reasons players wear arm sleeves are:

  1. Protection from cuts/abrasions
  2. Helps blood circulation and muscle recovery
  3. Sweat absorption
  4. Warmth
  5. Fatigue prevention
  6. Injury prevention
  7. Pain relief
  8. Style/fashion
  9. Tattoo cover up (necessary for some high school players)

Read on for more!


Why Do Basketball Players Wear Sleeves? 

The most important reason is to protect their arms from injuries. The arms are the essential part of the body for basketball. 

Whether you’re driving into the lane, “boxing out” your opponent, or reaching for a rebound, arm sleeves can help keep your arms safe from cuts, scrapes, and bruises. 

Carmelo Anthony wearing compression arm sleeve
Image via Keith Allison

We all know that an opponent’s fingernail can feel like a dagger when digging into your skin.

The hardwood or concrete floor is an equally dangerous adversary. Arm sleeves are a safeguard against scrapes and bruises when falling onto the ground. 

In addition, sleeve material can help to absorb sweat, keeping players dry and comfortable during intense games.

As a suggested read, don’t miss “Do NBA Players Wear Mouthguards” and learn if you can play basketball wearing glasses.

What’s the History of Basketball Players Wearing Sleeves?

Back in 2001, Allen Iverson was dealing with a nasty elbow injury. His trainer wrapped his shooting arm in a mummy-like bandage to stabilize the joint.

A basketball game in process

In the next game, Iverson dropped 51 points in a huge performance, and the sleeve quickly became his good luck charm. 

Other players began to experiment with sleeves from that point on, and the trend eventually spread throughout the league.

Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player who isn’t sporting some form of arm sleeve. And it all started with Allen Iverson, a wounded All-Star guard, playing through the pain.

Which Popular NBA Players Wear Compression Sleeves?

Kobe Bryant, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Ray Allen are just some of the popular NBA players who have worn basketball sleeves. A lot of Asian superstars do it too.

russel westbrook wearing arm sleeve
The NBA machine, Russel Westbrook. Image via
Keith Allison

George wore a compression sleeve on his right arm during the 2014-15 season to support a previous injury, and he credited the sleeve with helping him stay healthy. 

Westbrook has also worn a compression sleeve on his right arm to protect him from a previous injury. During the 2016-17 season, he averaged a triple-double while wearing arm sleeves, and he said that it helped him stay focused on the court. 

Carmelo Anthony has worn a compression sleeve on his left arm for many years to help with his shooting. Allen has worn arm sleeves on both arms throughout his career to help with circulation and prevent injuries.

In fact, football players sometimes also wear sleeves for the same reason.

Why Do Basketball Players Wear Arm Sleeves on Their Non-Shooting Arm?

Basketball players rock arm sleeves on their non-shooting because it needs protection too.

Players are constantly running into each other, jumping and diving for the ball, and trying to draw fouls

A basketball player shooting during a game

And while all of this contact is usually shoulder-to-shoulder or midsection-to-midsection, there’s one spot on the court where players’ bodies are almost always in danger of coming into contact: the non-shooting arm.

The non-shooting arm is often used as a barrier by defenders trying to prevent their opponents from getting to the basket.

And because of this, the arm is constantly being banged up by opposing players. 

In addition, the non-shooting arm also comes into contact with the ground when players fall. This is why sleeves are often worn on the non-shooting arm as well.

What Is A Compression Arm Sleeve? What Are The Types?

Compression arm sleeves for basketball are a spandex-Lycra blend, polyester, or nylon garments worn by players. Usually, the arm extends from the wrist to just above the elbow. There are three types of compression sleeves:

  • Arm Sleeves
  • Leg Sleeves
  • Knee Sleeves

Compression Sleeves: What’s the Benefit for Basketball Players?

There are numerous benefits of wearing sleeves.

Protection From Cuts/Abrasions

Compression arm sleeves are armor for your arms. They help to cushion the impact of contact and prevent scrapes and bruises.

Hardwood can tear up your skin like nobody’s business, so sleeves can be a valuable piece of protection.

Sweat Absorption

Compression arm sleeves provide sweat absorption by wicking moisture away from the skin. 

This helps keep the player’s arm cool and dry, preventing excessive sweating and the possibility of heatstroke.

Benefit of Compression Sleeves for Basketball Players

Hoopers wear sleeves to maintain a consistent body temperature, which is important for peak performance. When a player’s body is too hot or cold, it can negatively affect their game.

Helps Circulation

A Journal of Sport and Health Science study concluded that wearing arm sleeves is an effective intervention to increase blood flow and oxygenation to muscles.

They tested multiple materials, and compression was the most effective garment to improve blood flow and enhance muscle oxygenation. 


When it gets cold outside, our muscles tend to tighten up. This is because the cold weather constricts blood vessels, which reduces blood flow to the muscles. 

As a result, muscles can become stiff and uncomfortable. For athletes who play in colder environments, compression arm sleeves help to improve blood circulation and keep muscles warm. 

Prevent Fatigue

As any basketball fan knows, the game is physical. Amateurs and pros are constantly in motion, sprinting up and down the court and fighting for position under the hoop. 

The constant movement can take a toll on muscles, leading to fatigue and soreness. One way to reduce muscle fatigue is to wear arm sleeves. Arm sleeves are compression garments that help support muscles and improve blood circulation.

Prevent Injury

It’s like having a big brother or sister there to protect you from harm. It’s comforting, helpful, and supportive. 

Image via Flickr

In addition, the sleeve wraps around you snugly, providing security and safety. 

So whether you’re trying to protect against an injury pre-emptively or recovering from a previous injury, sleeves can be a valuable addition to your basketball wardrobe.

Pain Relief

Compression sleeves provide pain relief for basketball players by easing inflammation, preventing injury, and improving range of motion.

They also eliminate any by-products that can accumulate after an intense game or workout. 

When your muscles have fewer waste products, they can function more effectively, and you’ll experience less pain and fatigue.

Fashion Statement

Style is everything for an NBA basketball player, especially for Allen Iverson. Iverson was a true badass on the court, fearlessly taking on anyone who dared to stand in his way. It’s no surprise, then, that he quickly became a fashion icon. Iverson was never afraid to push boundaries.

Iverson was never afraid to push boundaries, and his unique style helped to set him apart from the rest of the league. 

From his arm sleeve and signature cornrows to his oversized clothing, Iverson always had a way of making a statement.

You can see more of AI’s fashion and impact by watching this video:

Basketball Arm Sleeves Cover Tattoos (Necessary For Some High School Players)

In recent years, compression sleeves are becoming increasingly popular for tattoo coverups, especially among high school athletes.

LeBron James was one of the first to popularize the trend, wearing a compression sleeve over his famous “CHOSEN1” tattoo during his days at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.

Many NBA players shave their legs to show off their tattoos, too.

Why Do Basketball Players Wear Sleeves on Their Legs?

Wearing sleeves on their legs helps protect against new and pre-existing lower leg injuries. 

The compression provided by the sleeves helps to reduce swelling and pain, and the fabric also helps to absorb impact.

NBA players are some of the most physically gifted athletes globally, possessing rare size, strength, speed, and agility.

When they explode off the court and into the air for a thunderous dunk, this places an incredible amount of stress on their bodies.

In addition, the sleeves can provide warmth in cold arenas and protection from the sun during outdoor games.

In addition, many players wear double socks for the same reason. Read more about it here.

Why Do NBA Players Wear Shoulder Sleeves?

It turns out that “shoulder sleeves” are the upper-quadrant parts of a compression t-shirt.

The compression also helps support the shoulder joint, which is especially important for basketball players who often put a lot of stress on their shoulders.

Russell Westbrook, for example, wears a compression t-shirt under his jersey every game. 

He credits the shirt with helping him stay healthy (even though he’s a physical player) and perform at a high level for the entire season.

Why Do Basketball Players Wear Tights on One Leg?

While some players opt for the traditional arm sleeve, others go for the newer, trendier one-leg sleeve.

devin booker wearing one leg sleeve
Image via Dennis Adair, Flickr.

By wearing an arm sleeve on just one leg, players can target specific areas that may be feeling sore or bruised.

For the most part, sleeves worn on one leg is a fashion statement. In a league where style is increasingly important, one-leg sleeves have become a popular way for players to express themselves and show off their individuality.

The one-leg sleeve is the new hotness in the NBA. Jason Taytum, Demar Derozan, and Kyrie Irving are a few players who have been seen sporting this new style.

The sleeve’s compression and warmth can help reduce inflammation and speed up the healing process.

One-leg sleeves can also support muscles and ligaments, which is especially important when an athlete is injured.

Sweat Absorption

Compression arm sleeves provide sweat absorption by wicking moisture away from the skin. This helps keep the player’s arm cool and dry, preventing excessive sweating and the possibility of heatstroke.

steve nash sweaty
Image via Keith Allison 

Sleeves also help maintain a consistent body temperature, which is important for peak performance. When a player’s body is too hot or cold, it can negatively affect their game. 

Another reason that players may wear a single sleeve is for superstitious reasons. Some players believe that wearing a sleeve can bring them good luck. 

Why Do Basketball Players Wear Knee Sleeves?

Basketball players wear knee sleeves for a variety of reasons. Some say that the sleeve’s compression helps reduce inflammation and pain around the joint. 

Others believe that the sleeve provides support and stability to the knee after injuries. For an in-depth answer, you can read this article.

Are There Any Reasons You Should Avoid Wearing Basketball Arm Sleeves?

If it’s too tight or made of a material that doesn’t breathe, it’s best to leave the arm sleeve at home.

When you’re shooting a basketball, the last thing you want is for your arm sleeve to feel abnormal and disrupt your motion.

If the arm sleeve is too tight, it’s like having a vice grip wrapped around your bicep. It’s uncomfortable and can make it difficult to shoot or pass the ball.

While it might not seem like a big deal, the slightest thing can negatively impact your field goal percentage. And since shooting is such a mental activity, you don’t want to give yourself any reason to second-guess your shot. 

Why Do Basketball Players Wear Masks?

Many players wear masks to protect their faces from injuries in the NBA. All-Stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and former All-Star Richard Hamilton are among them. 

And while the masks may seem strange at first glance, they make a lot of sense when you consider the facial injuries that basketball players often face. 

Injury to the nose is common in basketball due to the constant contact between players. The most common facial traumas are nasal bone breaks caused by collisions and elbows going into one’s face. This is especially common among players with nose piercing.

And it’s not just nasal fractures that are a concern – players also suffer from lacerations (most common), concussions, and other facial injuries.

LeBron James made his mask go viral in 2014 after breaking his nose in a game against the Indiana Pacers.

Richard Hamilton was another player who often wore a mask to protect his nose. He wore the mask so often that it eventually became his trademark. He said he felt more confident with his mask on and that “putting it on helped him get into character.”


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