Eddie House with a jaw wired shut

The curious athletic benefits of breathing through your nose


On October 22, 1998, first-year Sun Devils head coach Rob Evans ran a drill where you had to take a charge, then dive on the loose ball. Junior guard Eddie House smashed into a teammate and immediately said “I think I broke my shit” because he couldn’t feel his face. That night he had two surgeries to repair his shattered jaw, and doctors wired his mouth shut. 

The next morning the team sent out a press release, which they had no way of knowing was a total lie:

TEMPE, Ariz. Arizona State junior guard Eddie House (Union City, Calif.) will be out 4-6 weeks with a broken jaw, which he suffered Thursday evening (Oct. 22) in practice.

House has been a starter in his two seasons, averaging 11.9 points and 30.1 minutes per game. He posted a team-leading 64 steals last year (2.0 per game, fifth in the Pac-10) and averaged 2.9 assists per game. In his 62-game career, House has 201 assists and just 82 turnovers, a 2.45-to-1 ratio, and has played 24 games without a turnover. His 59 steals in 1996-97 is an ASU freshman record.

House’s jaw will be wired shut for 4-6 weeks. He is expected to resume light practice during the first week of November.

He resumed practice almost immediately, and didn’t miss a single game. Eddie ended up playing a decade in the NBA after being a second-round pick, but at that time he was an injured 6-1 Sun Devil. He remembers having a conversation with himself about that super painful injury, which he discussed recently on the Habershow with Tom Haberstroh and Amin Elhassan. “It was hurting SO BAD, like the worst headache, worst pain I ever had in my life,” House explains. “But damn man this is my junior year, I’m supposed to be balling out this year. Look what happened! Man, like damn. Well, if I can get out there and play, I’m just gonna play.”

There are some things you can’t do when your jaw is wired shut. 

  • Talk trash. Or at least that’s what Amin assumed. But in a delightful moment, Eddie shows him how he could kind of growl words at people. HEY, I STILL TALK THROUGH MY TEETH, THOUGH.

  • Eat. He couldn’t eat, of course, so he lived on nothing but MetRx protein powder mixed with ice cream and milk. And not only did he not miss a game, but he says he barely missed any practices. 

  • Breathe through your mouth.

James Nestor’s work is fascinating, and has caught the attention of some people around the NBA. Nose breathing has been associated with improvements to insomnia, apnea, halitosis, tooth decay, gum disease, anxiety, depression, memory problems, and athletic performance. Courtesy Penguin Random House

I’ve become a little obsessed with the work of James Nestor, a science writer who, after getting into freediving, has studied the hell out of human breathing. There’s much to his work. One upshot: there are a ton of benefits to breathing through your nose, as opposed to your mouth. He has talked about it all over the media, some of which made it to me. His book is on my Christmas list.

Training in nose breathing has also been shown to improve athletic performance. The theory is that nose breathing teaches you both to get more air through your nose, and to tolerate carbon dioxide a little better. 

A few days ago I decided to try it.

This post is for paid subscribers