LeBron James ditches black mask

Updated: March 1, 2014, 9:50 PM ET
By Michael Wallace | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- LeBron James complied with the NBA's request to ditch his black mask for a clearer version to protect his broken nose for the Miami Heat's game Saturday night against the Orlando Magic, though he said the league's explanation "didn't make sense" to him.

"I don't know if I expected it, but I'm not surprised," James said Saturday during his pregame session with media. "It's not a league rule, but it's the league's request that you don't wear the black one. For the reasons that they told me, it didn't make sense to me. But hey, I'm just a player in this league and I will abide by this request -- I'm not even going to say rule, but request -- by the NBA."

James declined to reveal the specific details of the league's request. But Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said commissioner Adam Silver spoke with Heat CEO Nick Arison on Friday to resolve the issue.

[+] EnlargeLeBron James
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsThough he said it "didn't make sense" to him, LeBron James eschewed his black face mask for a clear one Saturday night, per the league's request.

"I don't want to get into it," James said. "I'm good with the NBA. We're good. I am not against the NBA. They had a request and I fulfilled it. Let's just leave it at that. As long as (the mask) is transparent. As long as they can see my face, my opponents."

Spoelstra said James selected from a variety of league-approved masks to wear for the next several weeks. Spoelstra did not indicate the specific style or color of the new masks James considered.

"We've had numerous ones made, so he will have his pick and will choose one that is authorized also by the league," Spoelstra told ESPN.com after the Heat's shootaround. "We did talk to the league (Friday). So stay tuned for what mask you'll see tonight."

James had worn a black carbon-fiber mask during Thursday's win against the New York Knicks, and the design quickly drew comparisons on social media to masks worn by superhero characters from Batman to dramatic villains such as Hannibal Lecter.

James acknowledged after Thursday's game that he did not seek league approval for the design. But an NBA spokesman initially communicated in an email to ESPN.com during the Heat's game against the Knicks that the league did not foresee any issues with the mask James wore.

That sentiment apparently changed by Friday, when the league contacted the Heat to request that James wear a clearer version of the mask in future games. A source close to James told ESPN.com on Friday night that the four-time league MVP would appeal the NBA's decision.

But the two sides have agreed to compromise on a look that would be comfortable for James and also would fall in line with more traditional versions of protective masks that have been worn by other players throughout the league.

Heat teammates have joked about the mask James wore Thursday, and some even took photos with it to post on social media.

Heat center Chris Bosh said Saturday that the ordeal with the mask is just the latest in a number of issues involving James that have drawn a stunning amount of attention. But Bosh also said the Heat have grown accustomed to the scrutiny and spotlight in the four years since James arrived in Miami.

"We know that if LeBron changes his clothes, that's going to be a big deal," Bosh said. "So whatever he does, that's going to garner a lot of attention. It was a story, and now they said he can't wear [the black mask] anymore, so that's that. I haven't seen the clear one yet, so we'll see [tonight]."

The South Florida company that designed the black mask James wore Thursday also made an alternative lighter version he could have worn in the game. James also had a traditional clear fiberglass mask hanging in his locker Thursday that is similar to ones worn recently by Richard Hamilton and J.R. Smith.

James is not the first player who has had to switch out of a stylish, black protective mask. Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving wore one last season to protect a broken bone in his face but was asked to change to a clear version when one was available. Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant also briefly wore a black mask in 2012 after breaking his nose.

Spoelstra said he's more concerned about the way James has played in the mask after sitting out a week. James sustained the injury Feb. 20 when he was struck in the face by Serge Ibaka as he drove to the basket during the fourth quarter of a win in Oklahoma City.

James missed last Sunday's home game against Chicago, but returned to score 31 points in 37 minutes against the Knicks. It was the fifth consecutive game that James has scored at least 30 points, and he is averaging 35.8 points over that span.

"I did get hit a couple of times, and I definitely felt the impact, but the mask was able to shield it enough to where it didn't bother me," James said after the game. "It is a success for game one."

But there won't be an encore for the version of the mask James wore Thursday. It has now become something of a collector's item, with the team putting T-shirts of James' image in the mask on sale Friday.

By Saturday, though, the Heat's online team gear shop was no longer selling them.

Despite the injury, James will look to extend his most productive stretch of the season for the Heat, who have won six in a row and nine of their last 10 games.

"He felt comfortable," Spoelstra said Saturday of James adjusting to the mask. "What I looked at more than anything was his aggressiveness. Was he attacking? There's no question he was, with 11 layup attempts and virtually everything in the point, going to the rim, and continuing to finish while getting fouled. Those are the notable things I was looking for."

Information from ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst was used in this report.

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