Why do NBA Players have So Many Tattoos?


Basketball players like to express themselves in various ways from music to fashion and on social media. Players will voice their opinions on and off the court and it’s no different with their tattoos.

Why do NBA Players have So Many Tattoos? NBA players have a lot of tattoos because it’s apart of basketball culture, many players have small tattoos that are made up of one big tattoo, usually covering their arms and torso. The tattoos covering their arms are known as sleeves in the tattoo world. Tattoos can be expensive depending on the size and the rate of the tattoo artist charges, they are harmless to a player and do not affect performance.

This has also become very popular and trendy in sports in general, you will notice some college athletes have tattoos but will eventually get more upon entering the league. But tattoos, are not all beautiful and glamorous, some have backstories to them and are eventually covered up with another tattoo. Think of it as a turnover in basketball.

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Who was the first player in the NBA with tattoos?

This question is a difficult one to answer because although tattoos have been around along time, it wasn’t until the 1970s where you would see celebrities and athletes having them. They were slowly becoming mainstream as opposed to being something many people looked down upon like it was some kind of drug.

The problem with knowing how the trend started in the NBA is a difficult one because often tattoos were put on the body where it was hidden, most fans not even knowing their favorite player even had a tattoo.

Many people often think Dennis Rodman was the first player in the NBA to have tattoos but I think this is further from the truth but he was the first to start the trend in the sense of having many tattoos and make it mainstream and apart of the NBA culture.

Dennis Rodman 

Rodman during his rookie year with the Pistons was amazed at veteran Adrian Dantley’s hip. Dantley was sporting some tattoo art, and although he may have not been the first with many players before him having tattoos as generally they were covered up, it is one of the early stories to hear about.

Little did anyone know especially Adrian Dantley that Dennis Rodman would start a trend in the NBA after he slowly started to cover his body with tattoos. Dennis Rodman wanted to be different. Rodman had tattoos everywhere on his body, as time went on other players followed suit and it started to become really trendy in the mid-90s.

Rodman would dye his hair different colors and cover his body with ink. Being different can start trends especially in the NBA. Rodman had the bad boy persona not just because he was a Detroit Piston, as he barely had any tattoos while he was with the team but he felt like an outcast after he left Detroit trying to find his place in the league again. So he did what he wanted and started expressing himself using his body.


Allen Iverson

Allen Iverson in the late 1990s and early 2000s was basketball culture, wearing baggy pants, braiding his hair, and even made hip-hop music. Iverson did it all, but upon entering the league he didn’t have many tattoos. But like Rodman, A.I. started to express his image and the culture he grew up in. Sporting the latest popular fashion trends with attitude, he was literally a walking billboard.

A.I. was a major influence on basketball culture, he was barely 6 feet tall dominating the league and taking his team to the NBA Finals against all odds. He was the MVP of the NBA in 2001 season. He expressed many times that where he came from was a struggle and that’s all he knew. Having tattoos on his body that say “Only The Strong Survive” with a cross behind it. Praying hands on his chest with his grandmother’s initials.

“A set of praying hands between my grandma’s initials—she died when I was real young—and my mom’s initials. I put shit on my body that means something to me.”



When did basketball players start getting tattoos?

It all started with one tattoo, if you had one it was usually covered up, and then eventually players were getting tattoos in which everyone could see. Some players would get more and more and before you know it their arms were covered. I don’t have any tattoos but I am told that once you get one tattoo, it can be addicting leading to more.

The tattoo sleeve used to be a collection of smaller tattoos on the body made into one big one. Sometimes adding to the pre-existing tattoos that are already present on a person’s arm.

The full sleeves are happening more so even without prior tattoos on one’s arm. They get it all done in a couple of sittings. These things are not cheap also, you have something drawn on your skin for the rest of your life and it staying there so I would imagine you would pay good money for a good artist.

Don’t be like these guys with terrible tattoos. Please google these ones below, due to copyright.

Terrible NBA Tattoos

Richard Jefferson

I remember being a huge New Jersey Nets fan and seeing Jefferson’s tattoo it was awful. It looks like I am doodling in my workbook in class when I am not listening to the teacher.

Kenyan Martin

Kenyan Martin has the lips of his ex-girlfriend Trina a female hip hop artist he was dating for some time on the back of his neck, which I don’t think was that bad until he tried to cover it with what looks like a crown after they broke up.

Chris Anderson

Chris Anderson’s “Free Bird” on his neck is colorful and awful at the same time. I am really curious about what this will look like when he’s in his 60s. Probably like a melted pack of skittles on his neck.

J.R. Smith

Smith has a body full of tattoos that looks like a graffiti wall that has been graffitied over several times that there is no space on the wall so people just graffiti on top of other graffiti. I know I said the word graffiti a hundred times but you get my point. He has a tattoo on his neck that says “SWISH”, but J.R. can surprisingly pull this off.

Trendy tattoos over the years:

Barb Wire

Chinese Writing

A Basketball




Praying hands cross


Why NBA Players have a lot of Tattoos?

If you had to get a tattoo, what tattoo would you get? I am willing to bet most of us would say something that was meaningful to them. Some would probably get the latest fad and others may get a tattoo of their favorite thing at this point in time in their life.

Players generally are getting these tattoos during the off-season as it would much too difficult to do during the season, as it needs time to heal properly so it does not get distorted. Playing in games and practices can ruin the tattoos look and color when it is still fresh.

Many players will get a full sleeve, which seems like the norm nowadays. I believe that there was a time that players would get tattoos to be different and intimidate their opponents. Usually, they would get it on their bodies with no rhyme or reason. Nowadays players will get one tattoo that covers their whole arm.

Hip-hop has a big influence on style and fashion in the NBA, its all apart of the game. What you see in music videos you are bound to see in the NBA. Rappers want to be NBA players and NBA players want to be rappers.

Cost of Tattoos

If you want a good tattoo and done right you are going to pay a lot of money for a good artist. Why would you want to skimp on something that will be permanent on your body for the rest of your life? The cost of the tattoo will depend on the size, the number of hours, and the artist. I know if I was getting a tattoo I would pay a lot of money for the best artist, to me, this makes the most sense. If I have to have this thing on my body I don’t want it to look like an ugly shirt. But not everyone thinks like this…

I always wonder why don’t all NBA players have good haircuts. Why wouldn’t they spend the extra money to get a good barber? I still don’t have that answer and couldn’t figure out for the life of me of why Tim Duncan could never get a nice fade and a lineup with the whole head of hair he had. What a waste, of a good head. I just want to line him up every time I see him. I am sorry I got off-topic.

Not all players will pay top dollar for a tattoo artist. It can be as much as $100 dollars an hour to $350+ an hour for a famous tattoo artist. There are many factors to consider. For more on this check out this article on How much tattoos cost?




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