When Joel Embiid walked onto the AmericanAirlines Arena court for last-minute warmups prior to his NBA Playoffs debut Thursday night, eyes directed toward the gray protective mask covering his face.
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The 76ers' star center, whose gameday status was upgraded from doubtful to probable mere hours before the 7 p.m. tipoff, will play and start for the first time since suffering an orbital bone fracture on March 28 in an on-court collision with teammate Markelle Fultz. He has missed the last 10 games.
The one caveat: He needs to wear the protective mask to avoid worsening the injury.
ESPN's Ramona Shelburne reported the NBA approved Embiid's mask and that it will be "an upgraded version of what he wore on the court previously." The main differences, according to Shelburne: It has protective eyewear built into it, is made of carbon and poly carbonate (which makes it stronger than a normal mask) and it's more transparent.
"Let’s just say this has been a super involved hi-tech project between the Sixers, Embiid’s camp and the independent league doctors," Shelburne tweeted.
He was on the bench for the first two games of the best-of-7 series with the Heat — a 130-103 Philadelphia win on Saturday and a 113-103 Miami win on Monday — but he warmed up before both games wearing a black mask that covered his face except for his mouth and eyes. He rang in the playoffs at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center on Saturday wearing a Phantom of the Opera mask.
Specifics aside, Miami has seen this look to an extent before over the years from members of its own teams.
Back in the 2013-14 season, LeBron James wore a black face mask in a Heat game against the New York Knicks in late February after breaking his nose a week earlier. After that game, however, then-first-year NBA commissioner Adam Silver requested that James switch to a transparent mask while his nose healed although there was no rule in place against players wearing black masks.
“That’s all I needed,” James said at the time about giving up the black mask. “One and done, baby. I’m good. That’s why I didn’t fight it.”
The Heat's Alonzo Mourning also wore a clear facemask for a portion of the 1997-98 season to protect a fractured cheek bone.