The Goggles Worn by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: A Retrospective

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is known for a number of things, be it his impressive scoring record that made him an incredibly famous NBA Hall of Famer, or his signature skyhook shot.

But one thing that made him quite distinctive apart from his amazing skills and talent as a basketball player was the choice of eyewear he wore when he was out on the court.

Kareem dazzled spectators with his unique choice of glasses, so much so that many started to wonder what their significance was.

In this article, we’ll be tackling that exact question as we detail why Kareem wore goggles during games.

Let’s get things started with a quick answer summary…

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar began wearing goggles in 1975 after getting scratched and poked in the eyes repeatedly. Abdul-Jabbar would suffer from repeated corneal abrasions, which caused him to wear protective eyewear for the majority of the rest of his NBA career.

Reasons why Kareem and some other NBA players wear goggles

In a sport like basketball, glasses might appear to be a burden.

Basketball’s continuous movement and flailing arms can easily lead eyeglasses to fall off the face and pose extra problems.

Yet, many elite sportsmen have worn glasses over the years.

The secret is to take the time to invest in sports glasses.

Here are a couple of reasons why…

1. Eyesight benefits

Protection gear with prescription lenses and other extra safety measures can increase your ability to play while also decreasing the likelihood of your glasses falling off of your head during a game.

Your eyewear should never prevent you from playing your favorite sport.

According to Abdul-Jabbar, he wore goggles because they helped him see better on the court.

why kareem abdul jabbar wore goggles - improved eyesight

In an interview with the New York Times, Abdul-Jabbar explained that he started wearing goggles in college because he was near-sighted and that glasses were not allowed as an accessory when playing basketball.

Ultimately, the goggles provided him with better vision and protection from sweat and debris on the court.

2. Medical necessity

In addition to being near-sighted, Abdul-Jabbar also suffered from chronic eye irritation and allergies.

The goggles helped to protect his eyes and prevent irritation during games.

why kareem abdul jabbar wore goggles - preventing eye irritation during games

In a 1971 interview with Sports Illustrated, Abdul-Jabbar said that he wore the goggles “to keep sweat and dirt out of my eyes.”

The 7 feet, 2 inches-tall “Empire State Figure” of sorts on the court was a sight to adore.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who is one of the NBA’s tallest players, also possessed a move known as the “Sky Hook,” which is renowned as one of the most impossible to guard shots in history.

The combination of his outstanding height and difficult-to-block shot made him an opposition defender’s nightmare.

Although the players tried so hard to block him from making the legendary Sky hook move, they would end up reaching Kareem’s eyes.

There’s also a chance that Kareem’s opponents deliberately targeted his eyes since they couldn’t guard him.

3. Fashion statement

While the goggles served a practical purpose for Abdul-Jabbar, they also became a part of his signature look.

why kareem abdul jabbar wore goggles - fashion statement

The large, protective eyewear became synonymous with Abdul-Jabbar and added to his intimidating presence on the court.

In a 1976 interview, Abdul-Jabbar said:

“I think the goggles add to my mystique. When I put them on, I feel like Superman.”

Source – Los Angeles Times

What influenced Kareem’s decision to use this eyewear?

Kareem would have a corneal abrasion if he was poked or scraped in the eyes.

This causes severe eye discomfort and light sensitivity.

Kareem suffered so many abrasions that doctors stated that scar tissue had formed on his eye.

He eventually got recurrent corneal erosion syndrome, which led him to experience agony when his eyes dried up.

Kareem would have to miss games in college and the NBA due to eye ailments and persistent discomfort.

The aggravation of such injuries got to Kareem, who aggressively hit the backboard stanchion after getting scratched in the eyes during a game, breaking two bones in his hand.

He missed 16 games as a result of this event.

You could arguably say that particular mishap was the catalyst for Kareem choosing to wear goggles from then on.

Here’s a neat video which does a good job of summing up his decision to use the goggles:

When did Jabbar start wearing goggles?

Kareem began wearing goggles in the 1975/1976 season, upon returning from a hand injury he inflicted on himself following an eye poke from an opponent.

This was in his final season with the Milwaukee Bucks.

What’s quite hilarious is that Kareem became so insistent on wearing the goggles for every game that he chose to sit out one fixture due to having forgotten his protective eyewear at home!

From then on, Kareem rarely showed up to games without the goggles, only failing to wear them in the 1979 NBA playoffs among a handful of other competitive matches.

Which other NBA players used to wear goggles?

Abdul-Jabbar’s goggles have become an iconic part of his legacy and have inspired others to wear goggles in basketball.

Kareem was hardly the only NBA star who used goggles for eye protection. Look no further than his Lakers teammate, for example:

James Worthy

Worthy developed a scratched cornea during the 1984-1985 season.

There’s little if any doubt that Worthy was influenced by his teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, as he donned the goggles to protect his eyes and wore them for the remainder of his professional basketball career.

Amar’e Stoudemire

Another prominent example is that of Amar’e Stoudemire, who partly tore his iris during a preseason game before suffering a devastating eye injury later that season that ended in his retina being removed from his eye.

Stoudemire returned to the floor after a long operation, wearing goggles that he would wear for the remainder of his playing career.

On the flip side, these goggles are not just for eye protection.

They may also be used to improve eyesight, as the next player example proves.

Kurt Rambis

Another of Kareem’s Lakers colleagues – Kurt Rambis – had terrible vision and had to play with heavy black-rimmed goggles.

Rambis, like Kareem, was associated with his spectacles.

Lakers commentators referred to him as “Superman” (owing to his similarity to Clark Kent with his glasses), and Rambis had his own fan club that sat in the stands wearing identical glasses.

Horace Grant

In the 1990s, top player Horace Grant also had impaired vision and used goggles while playing.

While opponents would occasionally swipe Grant’s goggles off his face, Grant would try playing specific games without them; however, his performance suffered as a result.

Grant continued to wear goggles even after having a corrective laser eye surgery/ laser vision correction (LASIK) for his eyesight.

And this was particularly because he got so much positive feedback from numerous parents, who told him that he motivated their children to be confident in wearing goggles whilst playing sports.

Closing thoughts

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wore goggles on the basketball court for a combination of personal preference, medical necessity, fashion and a proud worthy legacy.

The goggles helped him see better, protected his eyes from irritation and allergies, and added to his signature Hall of Fame look.

Today, Abdul-Jabbar’s goggles remain a memorable part of his legacy and have inspired other players to wear goggles in the game.

For more content on Kareem, have a look through another one of our posts which covers why Abdul-Jabbar left the Milwaukee Bucks, or our article on why the famous player decided to change his name.

About Samuel Waihenya

Samuel is an avid fan of basketball and has been following the sport for over 10 years. He now intends to dedicate his time to produce great content for his own little basketball blog that aims to help its readership with whatever basketball-related topic they can think of. Have a read through Samuel Waihenya's author bio page here.