What Is the Purpose of a Basketball Sleeve?

Basketball sleeves come in all different colors and designs. You will find players and NBA fans supporting these sleeves. While their initial purpose was to protect players from arm injuries, the basketball sleeve has become a staple item in the wardrobes of NBA players and their fans. Allen Iverson first popularized the basketball sleeve during the 2000-2001 NBA season.

Allen Iverson first popularized the basketball sleeve Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Basketball Sleeve

A basketball sleeve is worn as an accessory -- similar to a wrist band. The sleeve runs from the wrist to the bicep and is very similar to a compression bandage, according to "Psychology Today." A basketball sleeve is generally made from nylon or spandex. You may also hear a basketball sleeve referred to as an arm sleeve.


In 2000, Allen Iverson of the National Basketball Association began wearing a basketball sleeve. This sleeve was worn to protect Iverson's right elbow as he suffered from bursitis during the 2000-2001 NBA season. Bursitis is a painful condition that occurs when a fluid-filled sac known as the bursae -- which cushions your bones, tendons and muscles -- becomes inflamed, according to MayoClinic.com. Other players, including the Denver Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony, started wearing a basketball sleeve to protect an arm post-surgery.

Fashion Statements

The basketball sleeve was the most popular non-apparel item sold by the NBA in 2008, according to the NBA store. Ever since the 2000-2001 season -- the season of Iverson's bursitis -- fans began wearing sleeves as fashion statements. Other players -- including LeBron James and Kobe Bryant -- have been seen sporting sleeves without any known injuries.

Placebo Effect

Many players who have worn basketball sleeves to protect an injury never seem to lose the sleeve long after the injury has healed, according to "Psychology Today." The placebo effect was first known in 1955. H.K. Beecher evaluated 15 clinical trials related to 15 different diseases. He found that 35 percent of 1,082 patients in these studies were relieved of their symptoms by placebo treatments alone.

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