Masked LeBron James fuels romp

James

MIAMI -- Leave it to LeBron James to make a fashion statement out of a broken nose.

Sporting a black carbon-fiber mask as protection, James returned to action Thursday night after sitting out a week and led the Miami Heat to a 108-82 win over the New York Knicks.

James had a game-high 31 points, but he also scored high marks with teammates for his choice of face gear. The mask garnered more attention than his latest stellar performance.

"I told him I'd expect nothing less from him -- fashion-forward, cutting-edge Renaissance man that LeBron is," Heat forward Shane Battier said. "I thought it looked pretty sweet. I don't think that it will inspire people to go out there and break their nose. But if you're going to do it, it can look kind of cool. Only LeBron can make breaking your nose look cool."

James had fun with the look on Twitter.

James was forced to wear the mask after suffering the injury during a Feb. 20 win against Oklahoma City, when midway through the fourth quarter, Thunder forward Serge Ibaka struck him in the face on a drive to the basket.

He missed the Heat's home victory Sunday against Chicago and spent time during the week privately sorting through a selection of masks designed by a local Miami manufacturer.

James initially told some of his teammates and the media he likely would wear a clear fiberglass mask similar to ones worn by several other players in the league to protect facial injuries. But James emerged Thursday with a sleek design that was significantly more dynamic than the traditional-style mask Knicks guard J.R. Smith wore Thursday to protect a fractured cheekbone.

"It went with the uniform," he said of going with a dark design. "I knew we were wearing throwback uniforms. I was able to get a carbon-fiber one, which is actually lighter than the one I had been wearing in practice. It came through at the last minute, so I went with it."

Smith wasn't exactly in the mood to compare mask designs after the struggling Knicks lost for the 10th time in 12 games.

"What did I think of it?" Smith said. "It's a mask. I'm sure he doesn't want to wear it."

James said he didn't seek league approval for the color and design of the mask before wearing it Thursday. A senior NBA spokesman confirmed Thursday night that the league had no issue with the mask.

The mask left teammates searching for creative ways to describe what they saw.

"I think he played like Batman out there," center Chris Bosh said. "I think it really helped him out. He played great."

Bosh was then interrupted in the middle of his session with reporters by forward Michael Beasley, whose locker is a few spots away.

"How you know what Batman plays like?" he shouted toward Bosh. "How does he play?"

Bosh playfully shouted back at Beasley.

Third-year guard Norris Cole said James "swagged out" the mask.

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