Suns Throwback: Alvan Adams vs. Scary Mask Man
by Matt Petersen

What. Is. That?

That's the reaction I had coming across this gem of a photo in the archives. The guy on the right is Alvan Adams, the Suns' former center, 1976 NBA Rookie of the Year, and team captain.

The guy on the left? That eerie Friday the 13th lookalike is Lloyd Neal, a 6-7 forward for the Portland Trail Blazers. The mask is in place to protect a broken cheekbone, but the visual effect adds the extra perk of intimidation.

Of course, back in those days, medical solutions were more about solutions than styles. Last summer, Adams recounted the timeless tale of his shoe-turned-sandal for his first NBA game, against Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul Jabbar) no less.

Adams was forced to wear a similar mask himself during his playing career, a result of an errant elbow from Spurs all-time great and Hall-of-Fame guard George Gervin.

"I got a little mad at him," Adams laughed. "I thought he did it on purpose [at the time]. Now I don't think he meant to do it. He went up with the ball, I stripped the ball out and he just kind of followed through to get the call."

His own mask was similar to Neal's model, a less looks-oriented version compared to its sleeker, less scary descendents NBA players wear today.

"Back then masks weren't clear like they are today," Adams said. "Lloyd has on some white moldable, plastic stuff and you had to pad the edges or else it would just cut into you. I remember playing in it and, after a while, I went, 'You know what, I can't see peripherally. It's bothering me. I can't look down.' You just take it off and hope you don't get hit."

Similar material was used for a sprained ankle Adams suffered later in his career. A perforated sheathe of plastic was cut, warmed and then molded around his ankle to form a temporary brace.

"You kind of just splinted stuff together back then," Adams said.


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