Why Do Basketball Players Wear Sleeves? (The Truth)

For casual watchers, seeing basketball players wear sleeves may have raised some curiosity. “Are they just for decoration? Or do they serve a function?”

So, why exactly do basketball players wear sleeves?

Basketball players wear sleeves for added protection, comfort and to keep their muscles warm. It’s an accessory which mostly covers the area between the wrist and the biceps and is mainly made of either spandex, polyester, or nylon.

Why do Basketball Players Wear Sleeves?

Sleeves in basketball have been used for different purposes by different players. Initially, it was introduced by 76ers Allen Iverson, who used it to help alleviate some elbow pain he was experiencing. Allen’s prowess in basketball helped popularize this piece of garment as a fashion statement.

Initially worn on only one arm, the non-shooting arm, players have worn sleeves on both arms, including the likes of Carmelo Anderson and Russell Westbrook. Its popularity has grown far beyond the NBA and has been taken up by players in the NCAA. The sleeve is another example indicating how influential basketball players can be.

Others also use it for medical reasons as the compression helps blood flow, leading to injuries healing faster. Apart from this, the sleeves are also proven to reduce injuries. They are also used to reduce pain, as in Iverson’s case. 

Some players use it for non-medical purposes. Some players wear sleeves because they keep their arms warm, while others wear them purely for superstitious reasons. Basketball players have also used sleeves in humid conditions to reduce sweat on their arms during games.

Aside from this, arm compression sleeves help in the shooting. Sleeves aid in regulating temperature in the arm, enhance players’ flexibility and improve blood circulation, which leads to reduced soreness and better shooting.

Different Types of Sleeves and Their Benefits

Basketball arm sleeve

Compression sleeves are the most common because they help shoot and stabilize the non-shooting arm. However, basketball players have different types of arm sleeves, and each variety offers different benefits.

Padded sleeves

These sleeves usually have extra cushioning or a padded area around the elbow to help the player avoid injury in case of a falling or a serious knock.

UV protection

These types of sleeves have been fabricated using special materials which help prevent sunburns or any related injuries caused by the sun’s harmful UV rays. These kinds of sleeves are very useful when playing outdoors.

Cooling technology

These sleeves have been manufactured with superior materials and advanced techniques, allowing cooling technology to help prevent the sleeve from overheating. These types of sleeves also aid the body in dissipating heat and cool down easier during games.

What are the Benefits of Wearing a sleeve on the Left Arm?

These are the top 2 reasons for choosing to wear the basketball sleeve on your left arm:

  • For the majority of players, their left arm is more dominant in the game.
  • Compared to the other arm, the left arm contains more muscle mass

What are the Benefits of Wearing a Sleeve on the Right Arm?

Here are two explanations for why you must consider wearing a sleeve on your right arm:

  • The first reason is that having a sleeve on your right arm can help prevent injuries. Basketball is a physical game; it is inevitable for someone to bump or fall into your way regardless of the rules in place.
  • The second reason is that it can also help maintain a constant temperature on your right arm. You can keep the warmth on your right arm by wearing a sleeve. You are literally “warmed up,” providing a better psychological feeling.

General View on Sleeves in Basketball

In the game of basketball, sleeves can be worn by any basketball player according to their sole preference. Some consider it to have a butterfly effect in that it helps improve their performance. Players also prefer it because it provides a great feel on their arms.

No answer can contradict a player’s decision when deciding which arm should don the sleeve for basketball. It can be worn on either or both dominant and non-dominant arms. The plus side of wearing it on the non-dominant arm is that it has the effect of stability and support.

Ultimately, how, when, and what type of basketball sleeve to wear depends on the player, whether it is just for comfort, fashion, or both.

History of sleeves

The sleeve was first introduced to the game by Allen Iverson, who used to wear it in the early 2000s when he led his team to the finals, where he faced a Lakers team featuring Kobe and Shaq.

He explained that he used to have some pain in his elbow and that wearing the sleeve helped alleviate the pain. However, even after the problem was over, he wore the sleeve, probably as a fashion statement.

In 2008, it became the most popular non-apparel item sold by the NBA Store. Moreover, girl basketball players also widely adopted the padded version to shield themselves against bruises and bumps.

Are There Rules on Wearing Sleeves?

Sleeves are permissible in basketball. However, there are some rules that players ought to observe when wearing sleeves on the court.

The most significant rule concerning sleeves is color restrictions. Sleeves should be either white, black, or beige. Alternatively, they should be the predominant color of the player’s team’s uniform. Moreover, teammates are required to don sleeves of the same solid color.


Sleeves have been in NBA for approximately two decades and have been adopted by players and fans alike. First introduced by 76ers player Allen Iverson to help alleviate pain from an elbow problem, it has grown into a fashion statement and good luck charm for others.

The rules on wearing sleeves in a game are simple, and players should wear them with their comfort as the utmost consideration. Nonetheless, they are practically useful for preventing and hastening the healing of injuries.

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