Why Do NBA Players Cover Their Mouths When They Talk?

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After a long, hard-fought NBA game, players from both teams often fraternize. Many of these guys are close friends because they may have become teammates at one point in their hoops journey. Do you notice what these guys do while they chat and catch up? They cover their mouths with jerseys or hands, which seems unnecessary at first glance. So, why do NBA players cover their mouths when they talk?

The Real Reasons Why NBA Players Cover Their Mouths When TalkingThe Real Reasons Why NBA Players Cover Their Mouths When Talking

The sight of NBA players covering mouths when speaking to each other is common. The unofficial term for that is “mouthing.” Just watch an NBA game from start to finish, including a few minutes after the buzzer has sounded. When a camera crew zooms in on the stars, they start covering their mouths. Why do basketball players cover their mouths when talking with each other? Consider five main reasons:

1. Privacy

No matter how famous NBA players are, they are ordinary people who don’t appreciate somebody eavesdropping on their conversations. As mentioned, some of these guys have close personal relationships, and their conversations may steer toward private topics. While it’s totally understandable why NBA players don’t like to give the media more gossip fodder, these “shirts over mouths” thing has become a source of memes and ignites even more speculation.

2. Communicating Strategy

Sometimes, you see teammates talking with their mouths covered in the heat of the game. During such situations, they are probably talking in a strategy they don’t want to be overheard by the other team. By covering their lips, players can discuss plays, tactics, or adjustments without accidentally giving the opposition the information. 

You probably also see mouthing outside of basketball, such as soccer or Major League baseball. Baseball players often cover their mouths with gloves when communicating with their teammates.

3. Avoiding Media Scrutiny

The media frequently scrutinizes NBA players, and each word they say gets broken down like a novel. Concealing their mouths can help them avoid misinterpretation or scandal. These private court exchanges can quickly be taken out of context, and the players use this gesture to ensure nothing of that sort happens.

4. Prevent Lip-Reading

Speaking of scrutiny and whatnot, NBA players know that even though there are no microphones around, they still make themselves targets by the unofficial lip-reading community. That is, of course, not an exact science, but the Internet gobbles everything. Some people could use these lip-reading moments as content for YouTube videos, twist the narrative one way or the other, or simply make fun of the athletes.

5. Joking Around

NBA players always joke around, and the laughs get louder, especially when they’re chilling on the bench up big. When the reserves get an opportunity to play, they might make one or two boneheaded plays while dusting off the basketball cobwebs. More often than not, the starters, or at least those who are a regular part of the rotation, often laugh about their teammates’ antics. Their comments could be rated PG and borderline inappropriate, all the more reason to cover their mouths while doing it.

Historical Origins of Covering Mouths in the NBAHistorical Origins of Covering Mouths in the NBA

There is no way of telling who did the covering-of-mouth thing in the NBA. However, LeBron James is probably the most documented player to do that, so he’s probably the unofficial king of mouthing in the league. Like many other things on the basketball court, King James is a master of the art.

Aside from the quick chat with Kevin Durant in the video shown in the previous section, here are more instances where James covered his mouth while conversing with other players:

  • With Lonzo Ball

James was still in Cleveland in 2017 when he offered some words of wisdom to Lonzo Ball while covering his mouth with his jersey. It may have something to do with handling pressure, but James was mum about what he told the then-rookie point guard.

  • With teammates Kyle Kuzma and Anthony Davis

They are unlikely to talk about Taco Tuesday here in 2019, but since they are in a Summer League game, it could be something about their young guys or some roster moves. In any case, the trio seems to be very serious.

  • With Dwyane Wade and John Wall

The video has since gone private, but the Internet is undefeated. This is the picture of LeBron James talking to John Wall while covering his mouth while the former was still in Miami.

  • With Kyrie Irving

At this point, LeBron James could be talking to his wife, Savannah, while covering his mouth with something. Kidding aside, James did what he had to do when talking with Kyrie Irving when the latter was still with Boston.

  • With Draymond Green and Anthony Davis

During this year’s pre-season game, Draymond here took a page out of LeBron’s book and talked to him with his mouth covered. Like the master that he is, James returned the favor.

Other Non-Verbal Communications and Signals in the NBAOther Non-Verbal Communications and Signals in the NBA

Aside from covering their mouths during conversations, NBA players and teams use a variety of nonverbal gestures and signals to communicate with each other covertly during a game. Here are some common examples:

1. Eye Contact

If you’ve watched Rajon Rondo and Anthony Davis connecting on alley-oops, you’d think these guys have mental telepathy. It all starts with is eye contact an they would know what to do.


2. Hand Signal

Hand signals are also a common way to communicate nonverbally in basketball. In the iconic Shaq and Kobe alley-oop in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals, O’Neal simply signaled “up” to Bryant, and that’s all she wrote.


3. Nodding Head/Facial Expressions

Facial expressions say a lot and that’s why it’s one of the most effective non-verbal forms of communication in basketball. Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant connected on a crucial pick-and-roll in the 2009 NBA Finals by using facial expressions.

4. Court Positioning

Sometimes, a ballhandler does not need to convey information through hand signals, eye contact, or facial expressions. He simply dribbles to a spot and everyone knows what the play is. That said, this is only limited to simple actions such as dribble-handoffs.

5. The Thank-You

Basketball players “say” thank you all the time, just not in words. Well, pointing a finger in the direction of a teammate is technically a hand signal. It’s often done when one sets the other up for a basket. It’s a way of saying “thanks, bud,” in a discreet manner.

Here is Wesley Johnson “thanking” Ricky Rubio for a nice alley-oop pass. Rubio is a nice guy, so he points his finger at Johnson as if saying, “ You’re Welcome.”

Wrapping Things Up: Why Do NBA Players Cover Their Mouths When They Talk?

NBA players covering their mouths when talking is strange seeing it for the first time. It does seem unnecessary, but actually, it sometimes is. In this age of technology, camera phones, and whatnot, you’ll never know what people will catch you with.

Considering these, why do NBA players cover their mouths when they talk? It mostly keeps their conversations private, away from media scrutiny and amateur lip-readers. LeBron James is a master at doing this, which is perhaps why he hasn’t had a PR nightmare ever in his career.

We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

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Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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