In September 2007, I was badly hurt in a softball game when I was hit between the eyes by a thrown ball as I slid into second base. My face was crushed - shattered septum and frontal sinus, broken nasal bone and two broken orbitals - and I required 11 hours of reconstructive surgery and months of healing. After being physically cleared to resume contact sports with the advice that I protect my reconstructed face, I began to search the marketplace for a protective facemask of some sort. All I found was a cheap looking nose guard with bulky black padding. Knowing that the padding would surely limited my vision, I decided to seek out the makers of a facemask I'd seen worn by the Detroit Piston star Rip Hamilton. The team sent me to Jeremy Murray and Rita at Michigan Hand and Sport Rehabilitation Centers.

From the beginning, Jeremy and his staff have been caring, professional and eager to please. They wanted to hear my story and to help me get back to my active lifestyle. The staff provided simple, clear instructions on what they needed from me (a prescription, plaster face casting and front and side photos of my face), and within a week after sending my materials, Jeremy had created and shipped to me a custom made facemask. As a result, I have returned with confidence to competition on the basketball court and on the playing field.

The light weight, protective face mask is one-of-a-kind. It's easy to use. It offers superior protection, clear lines of vision and a comfortable fit. After use, it's easy to clean with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. The elastic straps are adjustable and enable me to attach the mask securely but comfortably to my head. In short, there is nothing on the market like it. Without the prompt, professional and courteous service of Jeremy and his staff, I do not believe I would have the confidence needed to resume playing sports. The product is awesome, and the staff is even better. A winning combination. I would highly recommend the facemask and the staff to anyone. They may be one of the best product and service companies I have ever worked with.

Rob Carr
To Get a Mask Like Rip's
By Ryan Pretzer
Rip Hamilton doesn't make it a habit of laughing at injured kids. That would be mean. But sometimes they go to curious lengths to play basketball the way he does.

"This was funny, because he had an actual hockey mask - the 'Jason' hockey mask," Rip said, chuckling at the thought of a boy outfitted for trick-or-treating on a basketball court. "They were saying when he was playing, people would make fun of him because he had a goalie mask on."

Hamilton said he hears stories like this "all the time." It comes with the distinction of being the only NBA player to wear a protective facemask in every game - and being the athlete responsible for its rocketing popularity.

Who Wears the Mask?

By Ryan Pretzer

Rip Hamilton might be the most popular athlete to wear an orthotic mask, but as a professional, he's actually in the minority, says Jeremy Murray, the certified orthotist who makes Hamilton's masks. In fact, more than half of them are for high school athletes in a variety of sports. "Ninety percent are soccer and basketball, but also squash, volleyball and field hockey," he said.

Another 20-25 percent are for college athletes. "There's a lot of universities that send stuff out here," said Murray, who made the full-facial mask that protected Michigan State forward Matt Trannon after he broke his jaw during the 2005-06 season.

In 2007, Murray also made the most recognizable mask in college basketball. University of North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough had his nose broken in a heated rivalry game with Duke. His first mask fit awkwardly and limited his peripheral vision. Cosmetically, it also drew plenty of scorn from opposing fans, who delighted in heckling the All-America forward during the ACC Tournament. Hansbrough's father tracked Murray down before the NCAA Tournament. Hansbrough wore Murray's mask for two games during the tournament's opening weekend, after which time his nose had healed.

Although the pros are the most visible athletes to wear masks, they account for only 5-10 percent of Murray's clientele. Nevertheless, it is a far more common sight in today's NBA than it was after Bill Laimbeer first fashioned it. "You're seeing more masks around the league and college basketball than ever before. I feel like I made it alright to wear it," said Hamilton, who has had teammates (Carlos Arroyo and Antonio McDyess) and foes (Bruce Bowen and LeBron James) also wear a facemask for limited stints.
The Pistons' All-Star guard began wearing the clear plastic mask that would become his trademark during the 2003-04 season. His nose had been broken twice that season (it happened once before in 2002) and Hamilton was advised to wear the mask the rest of his career or risk significant nasal reconstructive surgery. Wearing the mask on a nightly basis, Hamilton led the Pistons in scoring as they marched to the NBA title.

Since that celebrated debut, Hamilton's mask has become the most recognized sports orthosis in the world. Through intermediaries, Hamilton helps those searching for a similar device by referring them to his mask maker: Jeremy Murray, a certified orthotist and registered occupational therapist at the Michigan Hand & Sports Rehab Center in Warren, Mich.

Murray took over in 2004 for renowned orthotist Jerry McHale, who revolutionized the facial orthotics field in 1990 with a clear protective mask for Pistons center Bill Laimbeer. Initially, McHale was the Pistons' provider of hand and wrist braces for Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars in the 1980s.

"That was so successful that I think it really became an acceptable treatment," Murray said of Laimbeer's mask. "Prior to that, if you broke your nose, you could run, you could shoot, you could jump - you could do all the things you were doing before - but you couldn't get hit so you'd still be kept out for several months. Obviously in the NBA that's not (acceptable), or even high school and college."

Laimbeer's clear facemask didn't catch on with other athletes, however. The mask was considered a device exclusively for physical players. Essentially, it was only for bruisers like Laimbeer, who were more prone to elbows to the face.

Hamilton's style of play, however, features constant motion, smooth shooting and superior athleticism. Every night Hamilton wears away the "warrior mentality" - as Murray calls it - that stigmatized the mask. Three years ago, Pistons trainer Mike Abdenour said in an interview he received phone calls for a mask once or twice a month. It has since doubled. "Just the number of phone calls - I'll get one a week for sure, probably two a week," said Abdenour, who refers all inquiries to Murray. I'm amazed how many people will just pick up the phone and say, 'Hey can you help me out?'"

The calls have come from sports enthusiasts of all ages and backgrounds. On the day Murray was interviewed for this story, he had just made a mask so a 12-year-old boy in El Salvador born with a facial deformity could play soccer. Previously, a man in his 50s who played pick-up basketball flew in from Hawaii so Murray could make sure his mask fit properly.

Murray makes one or two "Rip masks" per week during the winter sports season, somewhere between 75 and 100 masks annually. Only one-fifth of them are for local Michigan athletes. The rest are sent across the globe without Murray ever meeting the person who will wear it, save for the plaster impression of his or her face he received in the mail. You need an exceptionally popular spokesperson to develop such a diverse audience, and Murray realizes he has one.

"I would think so, absolutely. Rip wears his mask, wears it all the time, and he's an all-star, a good ambassador to the game. He's a nice guy, running basketball camps and such. I've had at least three or four kids who've sent me an email that says, 'Because Rip wears his mask, I wear mine,'" Murray said. "I think if it wasn't for such a high-profile player, there's a lot of kids who wouldn't see it that way."

Those stories also get back to Hamilton, who takes pride in raising kids' self-esteem. After all, he's brought a "freakish" look into the mainstream sports culture - and even supplied a ready-made nickname to every kid who fashions it. "I had this one parent who was like, 'Thank you,' because her kid would never wear a mask because he felt left out, being the only one like that out on the floor," he said. "Seeing me wear it, he felt good about it. All the kids around him were calling him 'Rip' and he felt good about himself."

Hamilton feels pretty good about it, too. The mask's proliferation has helped hundreds of children and athletes play the sports they love. In the process, the NBA's Masked Man has become an irreplaceable cult hero.

"I love it. It's like my identity," Rip said. "If someone doesn't watch basketball, an old lady, they always know who wears the mask. It's my identity and I'll wear it the rest of my career."

Just like the doctor ordered.

This article originally posted on www.pistons.com
About Us | Our Services | Media Room | Patient Feedback | Employment
Contact Us | Resources
The masks and services displayed on this website are not endorsed, sponsored, or affiliated with the NBA