The Arm Sleeve: Now a component in America’s three favorite sports

By Connor Pignatello


On January 21st, 2001, Allen Iverson was experiencing soreness in his right elbow. He had bursitis, inflammation that would require offseason surgery. So, the 76ers trainer cut out part of a tube bandage and suggested Iverson wear it to ease the swelling. Iverson scored 51 points that night, and by the time the year was over, he had attained his second scoring title and his only NBA Finals appearance.

‘The Answer’ would don his signature accessory, the arm sleeve, for the rest of his distinguished career, while racking up 4 scoring titles, 8 All-NBA selections, and the MVP award in 2001.

Arm Sleeves

It is said arm sleeves can help keep the muscles in the shooter’s arm warm and stop inflammation. However, lots of players wear sleeves just for fashion, and their impact is doubted by many. Also, wearing an arm sleeve on your non-shooting elbow has been found to have zero impact, so players like Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony who wear two arm sleeves are not helping themselves at all.

These sleeves also help players because of the ‘placebo effect’. The player feels as if the sleeve is improving his play and also decreasing his chance of injury. Therefore, he plays with more confidence, even though the accessory that he is wearing has no proven benefits.

Arm sleeves also can help a player become more confident, as Deion Sanders once said, “If you look good you feel good, and if you feel good you play good”. For example, former Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III — who wears one on his non-throwing arm — stated that he feels more confident when he is wearing the stylish arm sleeve.

Another reason that athletes wear arm sleeves is because of superstition. Athletes are notoriously superstitious, so if they try out an arm sleeve and have a great game, they will keep it on as a good luck charm.


Iverson was a cultural icon and many NBA players and fans imitated him. He was a fan favorite because, at just 6’ and 165 pounds, fans could see themselves in his size 11 shoes. Kids grew up idolizing Iverson because they could relate to him, and they could root for the underdog — the skinny kid from the projects who drove fearlessly through the lane against players that might be a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier. Fans could not relate to behemoth centers and athletic freaks like Shaquille O’Neal — the MVP winner in 2000 — because there was no way that they could grow up to be 7’1” and 325 pounds.

Iverson influenced millions of people, and after his jersey retirement ceremony, Lebron James thanked Iverson in an Instagram post, “U (sic.) the reason why I got tattoos, wore a headband and arm sleeve. Thanks for everything!!” When Steph Curry was asked about why he wore an arm sleeve for a portion of Game 1 of the NBA Finals, he replied, “As a little kid I always wanted to be like Allen Iverson and that was the only way I could really come close.” A.I. was so revered by fans that twice in the late stages of his career he made the All-Star team while only playing 3 games.  

I estimate that almost half of the players in the NBA now wear an arm sleeve, and this is all attributable to Iverson. Stars like Lebron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, and Paul George all wear this fashionable accessory.

Iverson was such an idol in the 2000s that his use of the arm sleeve has spread to baseball, football, and even tennis — Serena Williams wore two arm sleeves during her U.S. Open win in 2016.

Many baseball players wear the accessory on their throwing arm now, to keep their muscles warm. All-Stars like Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, and Manny Machado all wear compression sleeves.

Arm sleeves are also common in the NFL. Actually, I think they make more sense in football than any other sport, because the sleeves prevent players from getting turf burn. However, I suspect that arm sleeves are more of a fashion statement than a safety feature. Cornerbacks like Richard Sherman and Josh Norman, running backs such as Ezekiel Elliott and Le’Veon Bell, and quarterbacks like Carson Wentz and Robert Griffin III all wear arm sleeves.

Other Sports Fashion

Compression pants, like arm sleeves, have no confirmed benefit, but most basketball players now wear them. Some players have knee pads inside the pants, but many don’t, meaning that they wear compression pants for fashion purposes. Out of the 11 players who received an MVP vote this year, 10 of them wear some type of compression on their legs.

Football players have begun to wear tights as well. Some NFL players are ditching knee-high socks and wearing compression pants underneath their uniform shorts. And many college players are wearing tights to cover up their bare legs.

The arm sleeve is one of the singular accessories in American sports that does not have a proven benefit, but is widespread in its usage. This decoration is still popular years after Iverson retired, and it has been ingrained in sports fashion forever. The era of accessorizing is upon us, and the arm sleeve is here to stay.


Special thanks to Jay Caspian King’s New Yorker article “Object of Interest: The History of the Allen Iverson sleeve”.

Special thanks also to iMSportsBlog for teaching me about arm sleeves.

All stats via Basketball Reference

The MVP of the 2017 NBA Offseason: Sam Presti

By Connor Pignatello

Sam Presti has been the General Manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder ever since their days as the SuperSonics back in 2007. In an April article for Sports Illustrated, Lee Jenkins called him a “Blackberry-toting visionary” and Presti carries around a folder filled with 55 pages of his favorite quotes. Presti has managed the Thunder well for nine seasons, drafting Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden in consecutive years, but, as Jenkins put it, “[the] golden era ended before it began.”

Presti has been forced to make something out of nothing after Durant joined the Warriors last summer, and he has done an admirable job of it. The Thunder secured the sixth seed in the West this past year and Presti has made a series of calculated moves to improve the team this offseason.

First and most important, he secured a huge win for the Thunder when he acquired Paul George from Indiana without giving the Pacers any draft picks.

All that was required to get George was Victor Oladipo, a 25-year-old shooting guard who spent just one season in OKC and was due for a massive pay raise, and Domantas Sabonis, a rookie who finished dead last in Offensive Points Added and fifth-to-last in Total Points Added.*

In fact, Presti shed about four million dollars of salary while acquiring the 2013 Most Improved Player, because George will actually make less money than Oladipo next year.

To understand the full genius of this move, we must go back to last year’s draft. On draft night, Presti sent former All-Defensive team member Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Oladipo, the draft rights to Sabonis, and Ersan Ilyasova.

In November, Presti sent Ilyasova to the 76ers in exchange for Jerami Grant, an explosive wing whose team option Presti picked up on June 28th. Later in the day on the 28th, Presti picked up the two assets that he recouped for Serge Ibaka and traded them to the Indiana Pacers for Paul George. So, in theory, Presti traded Serge Ibaka, a rim-protector who has never been to the All-Star game, for Paul George, a four-time All Star who is a definite top 20, if not top 15 player in the NBA.

Although George has been adamant that he wants to join the Lakers, his hometown team, those threats may have just been used as an excuse to get traded out of a stale situation in Indiana. The Pacers have not won a playoff series since 2014 and were swept in the first round by a far superior Cavaliers team this year.

Once George begins playing with this year’s MVP, Russell Westbrook, he may become fond of his situation in OKC and re-sign with the Thunder next summer.

Even if George leaves the oil wells of Oklahoma City for the sandy beaches of Los Angeles, the reward of playoff success for the Thunder outweighs the risk of George bolting for L.A. Presti did not give up significant assets to acquire George, so even if this experiment doesn’t work out, the Thunder will be in good shape, thanks to the heroics of Westbrook.

Presti also made some savvy free agent signings. As of July 7th he had agreed to terms with Patrick Patterson and Andre Roberson, two defensive-minded wings, as well as Raymond Felton, a veteran backup point guard. Presti also drafted Terrance Ferguson, a 19-year-old forward, with the Thunder’s first round pick.

Patterson, who has played for the Raptors the past four seasons, is an established veteran who can defend multiple positions, shoot threes, and impact the game whether he’s starting or coming off the bench. Presti locked up the former Kentucky Wildcat for 3 years and $16.4 million, a great value for the kind of resources that Patterson brings to the team.

‘2-Pat’ has made 304 three-pointers over the past three years, a great number for a power forward, and his gritty defensive style has transformed him into a quintessential ‘3-and-D’ player. This is an underrated deal for an underrated player, and Patterson’s annual salary of about $5.5 million will prove to be a bargain in the years to come.

Presti also locked up his defensive ace, Andre Roberson, to a team-friendly pact that ensures the Thunder have the defensive firepower to stop the high-powered offenses of many of their rivals. Roberson is truly one of the best defenders in the league, and signing him to a three year, $30 million dollar agreement is a real win for Presti and the Thunder.

Despite his shooting woes — his 3-point percentage of 24.5 was the worst in the NBA** and his free throw percentage of 42.3 was second worst in the league**– Roberson was selected to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team, and took on his team’s biggest defensive assignments night in and night out.

Roberson was the only guard or guard-forward to average at least one block and one steal per game this year, a feat that he achieved thanks to rigorous film study in which he spent hours analyzing the tendencies of his opponents. Roberson can guard positions 1-4, and his 6’11” wingspan enables him to block shots, intercept passes, and deny his opponents lanes to the hoop.

The 6’9” shooting guard appeared to have an open-market value of $12-15 million, because defenders of his caliber usually are paid handsomely. But it appears that Presti persuaded Roberson to take a hometown discount, as Roberson will earn “only” $10 million per year. Re-signing Roberson was vital for the Thunder, because All-Stars Paul Millsap and Jimmy Butler joined teams in the Thunder’s division during the past few weeks.

Presti has had a fabulous offseason, reloading the Thunder for a shot at contention in the Western Conference. The road to the NBA Finals will be tough though; Golden State and San Antonio’s cores remain intact, Houston added Chris Paul, Denver signed Paul Millsap, Minnesota acquired Jimmy Butler , and the Western Conference seems as difficult as ever. Presti has reloaded the Thunder for a playoff run, and thanks to a spectacular offseason, he is now a frontrunner for Executive of the Year.


*Total Points Added is a metric developed by which tracks how many points a player adds or subtracts from his team. Offensive Points Added is the same as Total Points Added except it pertains only to offense.

**Minimum of 100 attempts

All stats via Basketball Reference