Tattoo percentage: 13% (2 players with tattoos, 13 without)
If I’m being completely honest, I am a pretty novice NBA viewer. I follow the ball’s movement almost exclusively, unable to see how the entire court is moving or recognize where the play is headed. I have a hard time rating defense unless it results in a turnover, the nuances of how one player shuts down another require an eye that I am too excitable to develop. My assumption is that most viewers are like that, which is why people gravitate towards fast teams—Showtime Lakers, Payton/Kemp Sonics, Believe Golden State Warriors—because they reward that kind of value system. That’s basically my favorite teams trajectory, I’m no better.
Which is why I’ve been surprised, and admittedly proud of how much I’ve enjoyed watching the Hornets this season, who got as much play as the Knicks and the Warriors for 2010-11. Unlike Monta’s playground shooting or Amar’e’s exuberance, New Orleans’ game doesn’t translate well to highlight reels. Their moments of brilliance are considered and subtle, a spectacle of patience that has countless analysts invoking the Training Day “this shit’s chess, it ain’t checkers” line about Chris Paul.
The Hornets are a slow team, something they got criticized for a lot in the playoffs. But their slow is measured, disciplined, not uncertain or tentative. You know at the end of a game when the losing team takes as long as possible to pick up the inbound pass so they can extend their time on the court? The Hornets do this almost every possession, every game. While they have a few players who don’t fit into this team model, in general they always project an attitude of careful control. It’s not like Monty Williams has to take a lot of timeouts to reel in the team or divert the momentum.
I never really liked that announcer’s cliche of “tighten the screws” until I saw it applied to New Orleans. It imparts the exact right combination of precision, excruciating pain, and satisfaction in a job well done. Their sense of control kept me from despair even when they were 10-20 points down. Without strong-arming, without Reggie Miller miracle speed, without even a visible show of heroics, the Hornets (at their best) are always capable of capturing the game. That winning streak in January saw it happen in six of the ten games, where the match was determined in the final quarter and won by only a basket or two. They were tight, hard fought games, sure, but they were also examples of how the Hornets can grab ahold of any opponent and take the win.
So how does this intersect with the fact that only two of the Hornets—franchise face David West and recent arrival Trevor Ariza—have tattoos? Is it an illustration of self-control=court-control? Gross, and totally defeating the point of this blog. Does it say something about Dell Demps’ bias against tattoos? I doubt it. The thing I keep thinking about is the recent trend towards criminals not getting tattoos, because tattoos makes them easier to identify. There’s something about hiding in plain sight, but something more powerful about the subversion of expectations, the next step thinking that can manipulate these expectations into victory—a final-second pass to Jarrett Jack for the win. I once saw Chris Paul get cornered by two defenders, and he bounced the ball out of bounds off one of their bodies so his team could reset the play. Maybe that’s some veteran move I didn’t know about or can’t recall having seen, but it is some serious crook play. There were a few moments of critical hate for Paul this season because of his attempts to draw charges, but in general I think people respect him, and the Hornets by extension. And especially after this playoffs series against the Lakers, no one thinks of him as a crook, proving once again that bad boys move in silence and violence.
Players with tattoos:
Among Ariza’s many tattoos are 5 designs dedicated to his younger brother, who died when they were both children. As described by a New Orleans Times-Picayune profile, these tributes are, “displayed on Ariza’s arms, chest and neck and include a sketch of Tajh’s likeness, clasped hands in prayer over Tajh’s name, and on the inside of Ariza’s left forearm, the words ‘Blood is thicker than water. I am my brother’s keeper. Rest in peace, Tajh. I miss you.’”
Towards the end of West’s junior year at Xavier, he announced that he would stay and finish his degree, rather than elect for the NBA draft. Shortly afterward, he got a tattoo of the school’s symbol, a capitol X, bordered by the text “My life my way” to demonstrate this commitment. As he explained to the Cincinnati Enquirer, “It’s to show some type of loyalty to the school because I came in as a freshman, and one of the things Coach (Skip) Prosser said to me was, if you do the things you’re supposed to do, then Xavier will do what they’re supposed to do, and you’ll be successful. Xavier has been the best place for me, and it’s where I’ve been able to establish my playing career. ‘My life, My way,’ is basically, I’m going to do things now that will be the way I feel they should go. It’s my life in the end. Nobody has to walk in my shoes. Nobody has to do what I do, but me.”
Players without tattoos:
Patrick Ewing Jr.
2011-12 NBA overall tattoo percentage: 55% [details]
2010-11 NBA overall tattoo percentage: 53% [details]
A player-by-player, team-by-team guide to tattoos in the NBA. It is not an attempt to document every tattoo of every player–rather it is an attempt to provide a series of tools for sorting overall tattoo statistics in the NBA alongside glimpses into tattoo trends. Click on any team name below for player details of that team:
Hawks - Celtics - Nets - Bobcats - Bulls - Cavaliers
Mavericks - Nuggets - Pistons - Warriors - Rockets - Pacers
Clippers - Lakers - Grizzlies - Heat - Bucks - Timberwolves
Hornets - Knicks - Thunder - Magic - Sixers - Suns
Trail Blazers - Kings - Spurs - Raptors - Jazz - Wizards
Click HERE for a complete list of NBA players discussed on this blog.
Disclaimer: This info is collected completely anecdotally, mostly by watching games, but also through study of photos, interviews, and player profiles. It’s very likely that tattoos have gone unobserved or remain hidden, especially on non-superstar players. Every effort has been made to present the best possible information, but statistics should not be considered definitive. Please use Ask Me to share any relevant information.