Irving was making his debut in a Nets uniform as the team played under the cloud of the NBA’s ongoing China controversy. He was wearing a mask to protect the injury but, shortly after the game tipped off, he was knocked in the face by the shoulder of Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo and quickly signaled to the Brooklyn bench that he would have to leave the game.
Irving, who missed the Nets’ preseason opener last week, did not return to action.
Irving Was Hurt During a Team Workout Before Training Camp
Last month while working out in Brooklyn, Irving suffered a fracture on the left side of his face when he was hit by an elbow from a teammate. The injury was not considered serious, and Irving figured he could play with the mask. He’d been practicing with it dating back to the opening of training camp nine days ago.
Irving has had extensive experience wearing a mask, having twice suffered facial injuries in his career. The first came back in November 2012, when Irving suffered a broken jaw while playing for Cleveland.
He flew to New York and was fitted for a mask—he went with black because the clear mask the NBA prefers players wear took too long to dry—and proceeded to score 41 points in his first masked game that night at Madison Square Garden.
In November 2017, Irving suffered a minor facial fracture while playing for the Celtics. He missed only one game and returned with a mask after that. The injury came in the midst of a 16-game winning streak for the Celtics.
But Irving was no fan of the mask. During his first game back, against Brooklyn, he did not wear the mask during warmups and took the mask off at every stoppage of play.
“It’s almost like having somewhat foggy blinders on,” he told reporters after the game. “When I take off the mask, I can see everything, but when I have the mask on, I’m really dialed into what’s in front of me. My peripheral’s a little cut off.”
Irving Still Hates the Mask
Irving, who signed a four-year, $141 million contract this summer, has not warmed up to wearing the mask in the interim.
After his first official practice with Brooklyn, he expressed excitement for his new teammates, but the same disdain for the mask.
“It was good, I enjoyed it,” Irving told reporters, according to the New York Post. “Obviously still hate the mask, but it’s part of it. Just to be out here competing with the guys, getting through our scripted plays, just really enjoying the camaraderie and the competition and having everybody out here raise their level of play and just be dialed-in. That’s a great thing for us.”
It will be greater, most likely, when Irving is on the floor and healthy enough to play mask-free.