A Festival of Spectacles: Eye Wear in Basketball Cultures

In this post I write about the different types of protective and corrective vision options available to pickup basketball players. I start with a scene from a recent pickup game that caused me to think about this topic enough to write a 6000 word post about it. Then I break the eye wear options into three categories, describing the pros and cons of each before listing who in NBA ranks popularized the look and how that look is generally received within pickup baller cultures. I conclude by theorizing about why so few people wear glasses and goggles on the court and what insight this gives us in terms of thinking about pickup ecologies in general. Finally I parse through the options ballers have in terms of eye wear and create an algorithm and matrix based on cost, time, safety, image, and effectiveness to help players (and myself) select the option that’s right for them.


It was a dark, -23 degree wind-chill afternoon in Champaign Illinois. I was about half-way through my second game of pickup at the ARC when I switched from guarding a wing player with no handle to guarding a guy who could almost dribble. Usually the ball is better at the ARC but I was on the JV court playing with a bunch of non-regulars. Anyway, it wasn’t one of those switches were we changed defensive assignments for the rest of the game, it was just a normal called switch due to a screen. I was down in a bit of a crouch slide-stepping across the lane as the guy I was now guarding dribbled around the top of the key and to a Kobe-jumper position on the left wing. I was playing off him by an extra half-step because (1) he was straddling the arc, and (2) he had taken a shot earlier in the game and had a stroke that made Marcus Camby’s motion look like Ray Allen. Anyway he picked up his dribble and looked toward the middle of the court. As he began his windup for an overhead two-handed pass I jumped, arms stretched upward in hopes of getting a steal or deflection.

Instead, the ball hit me in the face, my green Converse glasses with the lighter green racing stripe down the side flew off and spun to a stop near the free-throw line.

The down-but-not-out state of my corrective glasses after being hit by a pass from close rang.
The down-but-not-out state of my corrective glasses after being hit by a pass from close range.

Knock off a guy’s headband or inadvertently trip someone and pickup ballers will keep playing until a made basket or called foul, but somehow as soon as corrective lenses hit the hardwood people stop in their tracks like someone blew a whistle. As I picked up my glasses and tried to put them back on, the guy who threw the pass apologized, and three of my teammates who hadn’t said anything for the past game and a half asked if I was okay.

Yeah,” I said, “I’m fine, it’s not like I’m bleeding or anything.

Actually, you kinda are,” said the center with legit post moves we had cherry-picked from the losing team the game before.

I dabbed the side of my nose with my shirt but only got a little blood in return.

I’m fine,” I said, putting my glasses back on. They were in-tact but broken at the same time, sitting askew on my face in a way that was both visually distracting and comical, “They work pretty much. I’ll just aim for the spot between the two hoops I’m seeing.” A few guys laughed and play resumed.

I tried to bend them back into shape during stoppages in play over the next two possessions but couldn’t quite get the lenses to align. Seeing two of everything was surprisingly distracting so I decided to have a go at playing blob-ball. At the stoppage in play–a called travel on a freshman who took at least three steps before starting his dribble–I set them down behind the stanchion and endeavored to play sans gafas for the first time since I got glasses at age 6.

For those of you with 20/20 vision, I’ve recreated the experience both wearing my broken-but-wearable specs (middle), as well as going with my (un)natural(ly bad) eyesight (bottom).

My Court Vision: 20/20 vs Crooked Glasses vs No Glasses [original photo: Ali Hajipour]
Simulating My Court Vision: 20/20 vs Crooked Glasses vs No Glasses [original photo: Ali Hajipour]
After a few possessions I found that while seeing double added too much cognitive load to let me concentrate and be productive; playing blob-ball, while not optimal, wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. In JV-pickup-world, with a bunch of non-regular players who didn’t screen much or run multiple actions, half-court defense was about the same with or without the ability to see who was who. People on offense faced the basket and waited for their turn to have the ball. People on defense faced away from the basket and watched the people on offense wait for their turn to have the ball.

Once I managed to identify my guy in transition–one of only two guys wearing white tee-shirts on the other team–I found I could guard him and even call out screens for teammates in my vicinity. The tricky part was reigning in my inner Kevin Love–trying to figure out in a split second if the guy who looked open way down the court was on my team, was a defender running back on defense, or was someone standing on the sidelines. I ended up with four rebounds, three assists, no field goal attempts, and no turnovers for the rest of the game. I even stuck around to play another game which we also won. Again, I had mostly assists and rebounds, and I didn’t take any shots, but my statline wasn’t too far off from my averages.

As I left the court and headed down to the weight room, I started thinking about the role of corrective lenses in basketball cultures and what that role can tell us about basketball ecologies themselves. In the next sections I’ve broken the different types of vision-correction used by ballers at the pickup, NCAA, and NBA levels into three categories: not-glasses, glasses, and goggles. As mentioned above, I address each subcategory–exploring the on-court affordances and constraints associated with each of them, the notable NBA players who sport the look, as well as what each look says about the pickup ballers who use it. Then in the conclusion I theorize about what this says about cultures of basketball and describe my algorithm for deciding which eye wear option will be my next one given the demise of my Converse specs.

  1. Not Glasses
    • Lasik Eye Surgery:
    • Contact lenses:
    • The 3-Monocle:
    • Squinty:
  2. Ordinary Glasses
    • The Everydays
    • The Backups
    • Sports Strap
    • Google Glass-es
    • The Rambis
  3. Rec-Specs and Sports Goggles
    • The Racquetballer
    • The Jabar
    • The Horace
    • The Amar’e
    • Dribbling Goggles
    • Science Goggles
    • Recon Jets
    • Beer Goggles
  4. Conclusions and Speculation

1. Not Glasses

Some people just have a thing against wearing glasses on the court.
Some people just have a thing against wearing glasses on the court.

While it might sound silly in an age in which many of the world’s most powerful and fashionable people wear glasses, there’s a tangible-if-implicit stigma against overtly corrected vision within basketball cultures. I’m not saying that players wearing glasses won’t get picked up or won’t make as much money in their next NBA contract as their 20/20-seeing peers, but rather that all other things being equal, there’s something uncool about glasses and goggles–thus leading many ballers to reject visible ways of correcting their vision.

Lasik Eye Surgery

Coming in at around $2100 per eye (source), this is clearly the most expensive option for vision correction. It is largely permanent and has few side effects. I’m using Lasik (laser in-situ keratomileusis) to stand for any type of medical procedure that corrects a person’s vision.

The Lasik procedure up close. [image: danache.com]
According to Kelly Scaletta, a growing number of NBA players have turned to surgery to correct their vision, including Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, Rip Hamilton, Mario Chalmers, and Dan Dickau (The Bleacher Report, 2011).

Having Lasik surgery basically cures the need to wear any kind of eye wear. It’s only constraint is if they screw up and you end up with blurry vision or an infection. These outcomes are rare so the only drawback becomes money and the three days it takes to recover from the procedure. Lasik is outside of the price range of most pickup ballers so unless you’re a trust-fund baller or mommy is an eye surgeon you’re probably not getting your eyes ‘fixed’ despite this touching NBA All-Star’s testimonial for the procedure.

Chris Bosh explains how Lasik improved his game and helped him stop his incessant worrying if his trainer remembered to pack Bosh’s backup contacts.

Contact Lenses

I wore contacts from age 15-28 and in every game during my HS Varsity and undergraduate intramural college basketball career. At around a dollar per pair, contacts are not only affordable, they’re superior to glasses. They don’t restrict peripheral vision and don’t create optical aberrations (Wikipedia) like glasses do.

Unlike contacts, the non-spherical lenses in glasses and most goggles produce sub-optimal focal points and thus inferior vision, not to mention the distortion in proximity explained below [photo: cyperphysics.co.uk]
Some suggest that aberrations distort a player’s ability to gauge distance when shooting jumpers (Basketball Shooting Coach). This may have been what Larry Bird was talking about when he begrudgingly wore a pair of goggles during four NBA games after fracturing an orbital bone in his face. Though he shot 55% from the field in his goggle games he said he had no idea if the ball was going in or not (Anderle, 2011).

Before Chris Bosh got Lasik, he wore contacts–as does Dwight Howard, Grant Hill, Carl Landry, and Andrew Bogut (source, source). In the clip below Dwight tells us what contacts did for his game.

In a story in the Houston Chronicle, Dwight Howard credits his contact lenses with protecting his cornea when he was poked in the left eye so visciously during practice that it ripped his contact lense into small pieces.

“The contact kind of saved me,” Howard said. “I was glad I had my contact in. The other piece of it came out this morning. It was in a lot of pieces all over my eye. Luckily the contact got scratched and not my eye.”

Howard has had similar pokes in the eye but does not intend to try Kareem Abdul-Jabbar goggles. “I tried to wear goggles before, but my teammates wouldn’t stop laughing,” Howard said. (Feigen, 2013)

The downside to wearing contacts on the court is two-fold. Firstly, they don’t protect you from getting scratched or poked in the eye, and secondly, when you do get poked in the eye there’s a chance that your contact will come out and instead of playing ball, you’ll be walking around stooped over looking for an impossible-to-see piece of clear plastic for the next 5 to 10 minutes.

While this scene is less common at organized basketball games these days, it still happens once and a while during pickup.

The Monocle

You’ve seen it in the NBA and college, a player gets hot from beyond the arc and the next time they score from deep they put up / wear the 3-Monocle or the double monocle aka 3-Goggle (for example) on their way back down the court.

Doron Lamb puts on his 3-Monocle [photo: Kentucky Sports Radio]
According to the Wall Street Journal and the Colombian Sports Reporter the move began in 2010 when Patty Mills of the Blazers would tease his teammate Rudy Fernandez about having poor vision that led to his sub-par 3-point shooting. After going 3 for 4 from behind the arc in a game Fernandez flashed double 3-monocles at Mills in a sort of how-do-you-like-my-vision-now sort of a gesture.

Of course there are other thoughts on the origin of the 3-Monocle including stories of how Ben Gordon started it in 2008 or that it’s a Bloods or Illuminati sign (Franklin, 2011). Whatever the origin, it is not a frequently seen gesture in pickup ball. The 3-Monocle / Goggle is a form of celebration that requires that you first make several 3s in a row before claiming that you’re seeing the world with perfect 20/20 vision. Based on my calculations of shooting percentage in an earlier post, statistically speaking, taking and making multiple shots from beyond the arc in pickup games is no small feat and not a common event.

KD offers up celebratory double 3-Monocles from the bench in support of Jeremy Lamb.


In the narrative above, I was forced to play without corrective lenses for a game and a half. Yet a surprising number of people go for years playing ball and living life through a Gaussian blur. A Grantland article of top ten things to avoid while playing pickup ball includes the wearing of any type of eye wear, the author suggesting that playing blurry-ball is preferred(Cavan, 2013).

The tipping point for correcting vision for better on-court performance is different for everyone.
The tipping point for correcting vision for better on-court performance is different for everyone.

Going without glasses is probably useful advice for those with only mild vision issues. Unfortunately for those of us with Mr Magoo-like vision it’s not really an option unless forced we’re forced into it like I was or like Grant Hill was during the 2000 NBA All-Star Game when his contact lens popped out before the game and he was left without a backup pair (AP, 2000).

The first 10 minutes of the 2000 NBA All Star Game during which Grant Hill appears somewhat tentative. The poor quality of the video simulates what Grant Hill may have seen himself.

Still others are psychologically unable to wear contacts due to mild to severe ommetaphobia–fear of touching or getting touched in the eye (source). In the Summer of 2013, after eight years of being in the league, NBA forward Rudy Gay finally overcame his ommetaphobia, got Lasik, and left the ranks of the squinters (source). Before the 2013-2014 season started, Gay called his pre-surgery vision ‘terrible’ and said he was looking forward to coupling his Max-Contract skills with 20/20 vision.

Would knowing of Rudy’s poor vision have made a difference in this discussion of Rudy’s play during the 2011-2012 playoffs?

While Rudy is shooting better in this his first post-Lasik year than he shot in 2012-2013, it’s difficult to tell if better vision has had anything to do with it given his Toronto-Sacramento splits.

Rudy Gay's Career Stats through 1/26/2014
Rudy Gay’s Career Stats through 1/26/2014 [image: NBA Stats]
It’s impossible to know just how many pickup ballers play with poor, uncorrected vision–though that would explain the general lack of shooting percentage from behind the arc and well as high turnover rate on full-court passes.

2. Mostly Ordinary Glasses

My bent-bloodied-and-broken Converse frames fall into this category of eye wear that can serve as both everyday glasses as well as on-court eye protection/correction. This is the least expensive option for correcting vision while playing as it doesn’t require the baller to invest in a pair of specialty lenses and frames. The issue with this is that probably not a lot of time went into thinking about how that pair of Versace frames would work when that Big Baby analogue backed you into the post. In fact one guide to pickup basketball for the uninitiated highly recommends wearing anything but glasses when trotting out onto the court (Camp, 2003).

The typical pair of glasses in 2014 aren’t exactly made for the court. [photo: Jewelry Fashion]
The Everyday

The nice thing about wearing your everyday glasses for ball is that you’ve already paid for them, you’ve already got them with you, and you’re already used to them. The issue with wearing them is that they were probably not meant to withstand the force of an elbow to the temple or the impact of the ball hurled from four feet away (and if they are able to withstand those things then you’re either in the Marines or taking an eye-wear-imposed break from the dating scene).

The best-case scenario is that upon impact your everyday glasses will perform like NASCAR technology, with the lenses popping out and maybe the bow coming off in a way that protects the wearer while also allowing the player to simply snap the lenses back into place and reinsert bow. The worst-case scenario is that they fly off maintaining their integrity but then slide right under someone’s foot. The sickening crunch means that not only will you have to squint through the rest of the game but you may have to ask your girlfriend, boyfriend, or roommate to drive you places until you’ve got a chance to get a new pair.

There’s no telling how many times George Mikan’s specs were knocked off his face during his playing days. The story goes that he was initially cut from his HS team because his coach felt basketball required good vision but couldn’t be played in glasses. Since Mikan wore glasses he was out (Star Tribune, 2005; tpakrak, 2010).

Side view of George Mikan’s Eye Wear [photo: LA Times ]
Not only are modern glasses fragile but often the lenses are rectangular–sharing an aspect ratio with your HDTV. If this doesn’t restrict your vertical peripheral vision enough, the bows on modern glasses are wide creating a horizontal blinder-like effect. Wearing your everyday glasses for pickup suggests that you don’t play much basketball or happened to not have your contacts or goggles handy.

A view of the court offered by today's fashion glasses.
A view of the court offered by today’s fashion glasses.

The Backup

If you’re using a backup pair of specs for pickup congratulations, you’re not only saving money but you’re also a full two eye wear incidents away from being unfit to drive. I rocked the Converse for a few years before my girlfriend at the time convinced me to get a new pair of everyday glasses (think KD but with lenses). The only issue, and this is common among those who use a beat up / older pair for basketball, is that the prescription strength may be different in one or both eyes from your current pair of glasses. Either you guessed wrong on a few more of the Eye Chart letters than last time, or your eyes are paying you back for all the time you spend staring at a screen two feet in front of your face, or your optometrist needed cash and adjusted your prescription slightly so he/she could sell you new lenses and frames. In any event playing with a backup pair of glasses means you need to transition from one prescription to the other while it only takes a couple of minutes, not doing so can leave you feeling that things on the court just don’t look right.

Google Glass-es: Imagine your glasses were non-corrective and had only half a lens, but came with a processor, cutting-edge display capabilities, built in video camera, voice activation, and wifi. Now picture wearing them on the court.

Google Glass-es make it onto the court for a game of 1-on-1.

I’m not saying that I’d try and take out someone’s Google Glass-es if they wore them during pickup but I might feel an urge to try out my best impersonation of Shaq vs Mutombo.

Shaq’s elbow-centric post game

Sports Strap

While accessorizing your everyday or your backup glasses with a sports strap saves them from the danger of getting stepped on, it also means that you’ll be sporting a band of blue or black neoprene around your head. There’s a reason no one this side of Professor Minerva McGonagall’s age wears a glasses strap in everyday life. I’ve come to the conclusion that wearing a sports strap is akin to wearing your jock on the outside of your shorts or your bra on the outside of your shirt. It’s like saying, not only do I have inferior vision but I’m fearful that my glasses might fly off my face at any moment and so have fused them to my face with a piece of unsightly elastic. The only people whose sports strap flies under the radar are those with long hair. When I was in London last May and didn’t have my backup glasses with me I had to wear my nose-pad-less Euro-specs held on my head with a piece of cloth I had torn off of my shirt when I played pickup. It being England and my solution being an improvised McGuiver-like move it didn’t negatively impact my cred (full post here).

In 1941 headgear that went way beyond the ‘sports strap’ was created to allow the glasses-wearing public to enjoy basketball whilst protecting their specs. Somehow it didn’t catch on [photo: Modern Mechanix]
The Rambis

Most pickup ballers on university campuses know Kurt Rambis as the former coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves and longtime assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers. Yet from 1981 to 1988 he was the antithesis of LA style-consciousness, gaining notoriety from being the lone blue-collar member on the LA Showtime Lakers (Wikipedia). His black glasses with and without heavy athletic tape around the bridge were iconic. Rambis was a role-player charged with the task of rebounding, defending, and intimidating. After just two years with the Lakers replicas of his glasses were available for sale at Laker games for $6 (Christian Science Monitor, 1983).

Rambis’ heavy-duty frames complete with a Laker gold sports strap between the bows put him in Evan Sporer’s top 11 glasses/goggles in US sports history. [image from sportsgrid.com Note also the way his mullet hides the sports strap.]
There is one guy who plays at the ARC who wears a pair similar to Rambis’ specs. He accessorizes them with head and wrist bands. His bold choices in terms of basketball accessories seem to imply a certain level of confidence.

3. Rec-Specs and Sports Goggles

According to the history section of the Persol website, an Italian named Giuseppi Ratti was the first to create protective goggle-like eyewear for sporting events. The 1917 goggles (below) were first used by race car drivers and aviators. The design tweaks over the last 100 years center on adding stability with a mono-frame and the use of less tint.

Ratti's Original Goggles, 1917 [image credit: Persol]
Ratti’s Original Goggles, 1917. [image credit: Persol]
If your life or livelihood depended on correcting your vision without touching your eyes you’d probably roll with some version of the goggle. Despite their advantages, very few pickup ballers actually don this type of eye wear. Players will recognize the latest in on-court footwear and apparel but when it comes to eye protection and correction, it’s a different story.

Wearing goggles suggests that (unless you’re a ball-playing etymologist with an ironic sense of humor) you might take your accessories a little too seriously. Though goggle wearers may have to endure being called ‘goggles’ what they won’t have to deal with are eye-related injuries.

The Racquetballer

These goggles were worn back in the day for basketball and various racquet sports. They afforded the user unobstructed, uncorrected peripheral vision and a limited vertical field of vision.

Old-school safety and prescription eye wear [photo: skinneygenes].
One guy at the ARC wears a pair of these. When I asked him about them he told me he paid $120 for them in 1998, he bought them specifically for basketball and that they were the only pair of prescription goggles in the store. He said they’re still working just fine and that he’s never been made fun of for them but that everywhere he plays ball people call him goggles on the court.

The Jabar: this type of goggle was popularized by the most prolific scorer the game of basketball has ever known. No one scored more points than Kareem and no one brought more visibility to the wearing of protective eye wear on the court than he did. He had his cornea scratched twice, once in college (1968) and once in the pros (1974). Protecting his eyes was the catalyst for his goggle wearing (Wikipedia).

Kareem and His Goggles [AP Photo/Lennox McLendon]
In his farewell game all his teammates wore tribute goggles in his honor (Johnson, 1993). Kareem also suffered from a chronic drying of the eyes though it is not clear if his goggle use helped him maintain ocular moisture (see Wikipedia link above).

Kareem protected his eyes even in the movies. In his battle with Bruce Lee in Game of Death, Jabar managed to keep his shades on despite getting fake punched in the temple and face at least a dozen times.

While the naming honors to this category go to Kareem, there were many others who wore the no-nonsense function-over-form goggles during large parts of their playing careers. Jabar’s teammate James Worthy, Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon, and Dallas’ Roy Tarpley all wore goggles of a similar utilitarian style.

The Temporaries

Basketball is a leading cause of sport-related eye injuries in 15-24 year olds (National Eye Institute). Over the course of long careers in the NBA and WNBA, players are gonna get scratched and gouged in the eyes.

During her time with the Mystics, All-Star forward DeLisha Milton-Jones sported goggles after getting scratched by Nicole Powell in the Spanish League Finals. [source]
In a study of injuries in the NBA, more than 5% of all incidents involved the eye. These occurred most often while the injured person was either in the act of rebounding or on offense (Zagelbaum, 1995). Thus a whole range of players, but especially post player, have been obliged to wear goggles for a period of time to protect their eyes, or in DWade’s case reduce the chances that bright lighting would trigger a migraine (NBA.com, 2011). Few if any of them loved the experience enough to continue wearing them past the point of having gotten over their issue.

Somewhat reluctant goggle wearers: Luis Scola, Tony Parker, Dwayne Wade, Larry Bird, Vladimir Radmanovic, and Reggie Miller
Somewhat reluctant goggle wearers: Luis Scola, Tony Parker, Dwayne Wade, Larry Bird, Vladimir Radmanovic, and Reggie Miller

The Horace

Though he wasn’t the most famous or most skilled player ever to wear goggles, his choice in eye wear was memorable for the in-your-face color schemes he favored on the court. Instead of goggles hiding his face from the world, Grant used his on-court eye wear to call attention to himself and strike fear in his opponents.

Horace Grant, NBA champion, skilled power forward, wearer of iconic goggles [photo: turnernbaallball]
As a goggle wearer, Moses Malone falls somewhere between the Horace and Jabar categories. Moses often wore a pair of nondescript run-of-the-mill goggles, but later in his career during his time with the Hawks he wore a bright red pair that matched his uniform. When he retired he held the record for made free throws at 8,531, each time he went to the line Moses would push his goggles up onto his forehead (NBA.com).

Malone’s bright red goggles [photo: Getty-NBA]
The issue with wearing Horace-like goggles on the pickup court is that you’ll be called ‘goggles’ for sure, the upside is that being bold is usually respected so you may actually get some cred out of the choice.

The Amar’e

While he had Lasik surgery to correct his vision, Amar’e Stoudemire had a series of serious eye injuries that required him to wear protective goggles during multiple seasons. His goggles get their own category as they represent an updated version of the Kareem but with a bit more flair.

Amar’e’s custom-designed specs [image source]
Amar’e’s goggles appear not to be an option for pickup ballers as they are only available to big men who can run the pick-and-roll and are playing on uninsured $100 million dollar contracts with the NY Knicks.

Amar’e dons his custom-made goggles. [photo: Bruce Bennett Getty Images]
The Dribbling Goggles

In my post A Taxonomy of the Turnover I highlight one type of turnover caused by tunnel vision. You’ve seen it happen, a guy looks like a player but then when he gets the ball he can’t seem to dribble without staring down at the ball. These goggles are meant to fix that. A few practice sessions with dribbling goggles are meant to reduce reliance on even lower peripheral vision when dribbling allowing the newly skilled ball handler to spend her/his time looking around the court for people who might be open. At $4.99 per pair I’m tempted to buy a few and pass them out around the ARC as needed (HoopsReview).

Dribble Master™ Basketball Goggles designed to promote better ball handling and abstinence [photo: framingphotography]
I’ve never seen anyone try and play pickup with dribbling goggles. There are at least three reasons for this. First, most ballers see playing pickup as the culminating performance not practice for organized basketball. Second, you just don’t wear things that make it harder to win, that’s not fair to your teammates. And third, unless you’ve taken a vow of celibacy you wouldn’t want to risk wearing these where your a potential (or current) significant other might happen to walk by and notice you for all the wrong reasons.

Science Goggles: Picking up on visual cues in the split seconds before shooting is an important part of playing efficient basketball. Specifically noticing wide open teammates, or lanky defenders lurking to block one’s shot improves one’s chances of making the right decision with the ball. An article in the Journal of Sports Sciences investigated the difference between low and high release jump shooters and how this relates to their window for correctly assessing the court.

Side-by-Side Comparison of High and Low-Release Shooting Styles [photo: daily post, wikihow]
Side-by-Side Comparison of High and Low-Release Shooting Styles [photo: dailymail, wikihow]
In the article, the researchers used a pair of goggles that can be set to completely block the wearer’s vision at particular moments triggered by physical gestures. The goggles were used with a group of elite-level shooters, each of whom shot the ball with either a high or low release. They found that low release shooters preferred to focus on the basket just before the ball blocked their view of the hoop, where as high release shooters preferred to focus on the basket as they were beginning their shooting motion. The authors conclude that this gives high-release shooters a slight temporal advantage because they theoretically have more time to pick up on late-breaking changes in court dynamics than their low-release shooting peers (Oliviera, 2006).

Visual Occlusion Spectacles by Plato
Visual Occlusion Spectacles by Plato

Again, these wouldn’t really be useful during a game unless you wanted to simulate what it would be like to play basketball with brief periods of temporary blindness. While the results might rise to Jack-Ass levels of hilarity the results might also rise to Jack-Ass levels of pointless injury.

Recon Jet Reality Augmentation Glasses: While I covered Google Glass above in the ‘regular glasses’ category, Google has seen such a backlash against Google Glass, even earning the coined phrase ‘glass hole’ for someone who uses them inappropriately in public and the technology will eventually dominate our lives (whether in glasses or contact lens form) that I thought I’d include the new impact-resistant and redesigned version as well. Recon Instruments has repackaged google glass within a pair of tinted sports sunglasses. They’ve also moved the display from the upper right to the lower right which will be an improvement basketball-wise for all but the worst sufferers of dribbling-induced tunnel vision (covered here).

Mock ups of the Recon Jet with embedded Google Glass in use in different outdoor settings.

While they don’t preview what it might look like for basketball, the company claims that the Recon Jets are water resistant so all but the heaviest of sweaters should be fine in wearing them on the court. One would think that if they’re durable enough for fighting fires then they’d be okay on the court as well but only testing them will confirm this. As for what types of apps might be the most useful, an automated score-keeping app, an auto highlight generating app, a jumpshot analysis tool, a face-game-recognition baller database, and a trashtalk helper tool are a few that spring to mind.

Beer Goggles: No not ‘that‘ kind of beer goggles but rather the range of goggles meant to simulate the impairment associated with intoxication. These devices are promoted as an effective way of helping high school students understand the effects alcohol can have on coordination and reflexes. Of course it was inevitable that people would try and play ball in them.

Two teachers go one-on-one wearing goggles meant to simulate cognitive impairment.

One time I played with a couple of guys who had just come from wining and dining their girlfriends on Valentines Day. While they said they were a little buzzed they were not even close to being in the useless state of the two goggled guys above.

Conclusions and Speculation:

Wear a pair of Jordans or stick out your tongue on the way to the hoop and people may associate you with Mike. Yet throw on a pair of Kareem-type goggles and you’ll get no such implied transfer of transcendence. In pickup cultures, ballers get cred for wearing chest and rib padding but throw on a pair of rec-specs and you might as well have a note from your mom safety pinned to your sweater. Employing protective eye wear or a sports strap may imply that you’re overly cautious and concerned for your safety or that you have a history of eye injuries. In both cases you put yourself at risk of losing a little cred with the other players.

These cultural features are perpetuated in the media as well, Sports Pickle, At the Buzzer, and GQ all list wearing goggles as part of the characteristics of their worst pickup team ever (Gallo, 2013), old-guy (Robinson, 2013), and stylin’ poser archetypes (Barboza, 2013). Wearing goggles or Rambis-style glasses is nearly akin to wearing Patrick Ewing-style knee pads.

Goggles vs Knee Pads, you be the judge… [Photo credit: rankopedia.com]
My theory is that one of the reasons that more guys don’t wear their glasses on the court is that they feel it may be interpreted as a sign of weakness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that if you wear goggles you won’t get picked up. Yet we know from above that there’s a whole host of players, even Max Contract NBA players who prefer to squint through a game rather than don a pair of glasses or goggles.

Not even the Pickup Baller-In-Chief plays in goggles


The ironic thing is that if having imperfect vision were a sign of inherent on-court weakness then the list of goggle-wearing, Lasik-getting, and contact-using players would include more guys like the flawed stereotypical pickup ballers mentioned in blog posts and fewer guys in or destined for the basketball hall of fame. It takes a lot of confidence to put on a pair of goggles and go play ball that first time. Maybe you have to be an alpha baller or just not care what other people think in order to use eye wear on the court. Maybe you need a bunch of stat guys in your face telling you that they’re gonna trade you unless you get over your phobia and get your vision corrected (and then maybe they trade you to Toronto or Sacramento anyway). The other impediment to wearing made-for-balling eye wear is monetary. You won’t really know how custom specs feel or how they’ll work for you until you’ve spent $200 or more on them. Sure you can put them on in the store but you don’t know how the curvature of the lenses will affect how you see the court, you won’t know how well they’ll stay on, if they’ll fog up, or make it seem like you’re looking out from inside a fish bowl. For most pickup ballers that’s too much money to risk on eye wear that may only get one use. <a href=”https://yougotfive.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/recball.jpg”><img class=”size-large wp-image-683″ src=”https://yougotfive.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/recball.jpg?w=529″ alt=”” width=”529″ height=”235″ /></a> This pair of Rec Specs Maxx 20 with a prescription, anti-fog, and a few other options rings in at $508 [see: <a href=”http://www.heavyglare.com/rec-specs-goggles/rec-specs-maxx-20-prescription-ready.html” target=”_blank”>heavyglare</a>] Russel Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder doesn’t need glasses yet his use of lens-less glasses during post-game interviews suggests that he, KD, Lebron, Dwight Howard and others might be doing what they can to support the bespectacled among us while also appearing more fashionable in a geek-chic sort of a way. <img src=”http://blogimages.thescore.com/tbj/files/2012/05/russell-westbrook-shirt.jpg” alt=”” width=”590″ height=”354″ /> Russel Westbrook makes lens-less glasses a part of his post-game look

What it comes down to is the way masculinity circulates and gets performed within ecologies of basketball (upcoming post). In a survival of the fittest environment we’re encouraged to cover our deficiencies. We’re implicitly encouraged to wear contacts instead of glasses, to shave our heads instead of admitting to encroaching baldness, to dye our beards instead of admitting to advancing age. Yet these fictions about being more of a man if you have 20/20 vision, have a full head of hair, or are young are potentially interrupted by the transcendent, all-world-level basketball players who wore goggles (Malone, Hakeem, Worthy), got Lasik (LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Amar’e), got old (Kareem, Jordan), or started balding (Jordan, LeBron) before they retired. Ironically it’s the covering up of these things by the NBA’s best players that reinforces ideas people have about poor vision and protective/corrective gear as a sign of on-court weakness.

The ultimate beauty of pickup basketball is that if you can play then you can play, and if they need one to run fives, then you can play no matter what. Yet given the culture of pickup basketball if the place is packed and you are there lone-wolf style looking to get picked up you might want to leave your goggles in you pocket when you ask who’s got next and if you can run.

Down a pair of glasses and in need of on-court eyewear I reached out to some friends for their experiences. My cousin Luke, a Lutheran Minister and 3-point specialist baller had this to say about his experience:
In my late 20’s I wound up going the Lasik route and would clearly rank that as the optimal way to go because it gives you the best vision without the hassle of any other corrective/protective apparatus, even if it hasn’t perceptively raised my field goal percentage or ability to shoot better, luckily my sweet lefty stroke is God-given and crafted by years of practice. My reason for choosing to go with Lasik was mostly based on the fact that I simply could not wear my contacts for any length of time anymore because of eye irritation due to dryness and eye allergies. I’m not a “trust-fund” baller either, with a little saving and 18 month, no-interest financing I gladly strapped myself into the chair at the Lasik facility near my house and endured the most intense 60 seconds of my life in the operating chair (I think I almost broke off their armrests while I was having the procedure done, not kidding).  I’ve loved having the 20/15 vision, both on and off the court, in the 7 years since and I’ve never looked back (pun intended).

After thinking about Luke’s experience, I decided to create an algorithm that equally valued the cost, time, safety, image, and on-court effectiveness of each option. Specifically the algorithm is: =ROUNDUP((10000-total cost)+((100-total time)*10)+(10000*Safety Rating)+(10000*Effectiveness)+(10000*Image), 0) and then I calculated the percentage of the total. In other words getting contact lenses is 64% of the way to an ideal solution though if we’ve learned anything via this post we’ve learned that there is no ideal option. Of course if you were a trust-fund baller, liked lasers searing into your retinas, or had ommetaphobia you might weight the categories differently.

A matrix of options for determining which approach to on-court eye wear might be the best
A matrix of options for determining which approach to on-court eye wear might be the best

For the time being I’ll use my third-string glasses but the next chance I get I’ll look into getting contacts–I’ll be sure to follow Dwight’s advice and check with my parents first.


One thought on “A Festival of Spectacles: Eye Wear in Basketball Cultures

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