When photos of Anthony Davis wearing protective eyewear first popped up on social media yesterday afternoon, it felt like a tipping point. Goggles aren’t new to Davis. In high-school he rocked prescription lenses (and here’s photographic evidence of them coming in handy!) but this was different. It was transformative. Anthony Alcindor. Anthony Jabbar-Davis. A soulful, inspiring retrofit.
Just look at these pictures. The shiny afro, diamond-studded earrings, and unkempt black beard are a harmonious vibe on their own, but when accented by those Oakleys it all turns into a symphony.
It took a couple minutes for me to unpack exactly why this seemed meaningful. Not only does Davis look cooler than he ever has, but goggles give him the distinguishable feature his career’s been searching for. The man isn’t boring, per se, but his most prominent personality trait is his eyebrows. Goggles could provide the perfect on-court image.
They project a steady, responsible hand, sprinkled in with a pinch of mystery. Davis is famous but he’s not “is this the best basketball player on the planet?” famous, which is what we very well may be asking come the fall. Goggles supply an alter ego that would make him instantly recognizable to someone like my mom.
It’s not clear whether Davis will stick with the goggles. But they could do more than improve his image:They’ll keep him safe, too. In the early 1990’s, ophthalmologist Dr. Bruce Zagelbaum decided to investigate eye injuries in the NBA. After studying players over a 17-month period, he concluded that all of them should wear goggles, stating that almost every eye injury suffered on the court was preventable.
If Davis chooses to rock them for the rest of his career—which he should!—he’ll enter a unique fraternity, one that’s ironically mostly occupied by former Lakers like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kurt Rambis, and James Worthy. Yesterday I called another member, former Utah Jazz forward Thurl Bailey, who decided to wear goggles after Worthy’s fingernail scratched his cornea during a game in the mid-80’s.
Bailey remembers the pain and the blood. But also, he remembers what happened when he walked out of the locker room and past the Lakers’ bench. “Kareem looks up at me,” Bailey said. “He holds his goggles out and says ‘Young fella, you need to get you some of these’.”
So Bailey did. And aside from occasional fog, he had no issue wearing goggles until his career took him to Europe, where cigarette smoke from fans, coaches, and teammates who lit up in the locker room at halftime was too much. But by then his reputation was already cemented. Even today, when Bailey introduces himself to people, they say, “‘Oh you were the one that wore the goggles, right?’”
Goggles have evolved since then. They’re less invasive and designed not to fog up. The sleek blades Davis wore look considerably cooler than Abdul-Jabbar’s clunky shields. There are limits, though, to how colorful their lenses can be—as Dwyane Wade discovered in 2011 when the NBA wouldn’t allow him to wear a particular tint because it prevented defenders from seeing his eyes.
When I asked Bailey if he ever wore his goggles off the court, he started to laugh. “Please. Please. Look at the ones Kareem had on and tell me that’s something you would wear as a fashion statement.”
But Davis is probably best known in style terms for the tone deaf “That’s All Folks” t-shirt he wore to his last Pelicans game, and subsequent claim that a stylist picked it out. Goggles could change all that. “Think about it. You can be cool with goggles on,” Worthy—an all-time graceful eyewear practitioner—recently said. Lakers head coach Frank Vogel took it one step further: “He looked better than anybody that’s ever worn them.”