Watching an NBA game, it’s weirdly difficult to find a player who isn’t sporting some ink, aka a tattoo. They’re almost seemingly as important as a player’s jump shot! But like the professional ballers, not every tattoo is created equal.
While some are cringe-worthy and pretentious (sorry, LeBron), others are total tattoo inspiration that might have you running to the nearest parlor.
Richard Jefferson Was 17 When He Got This Tattoo
Former NBA small forward Richard Jefferson arguably has one of the most recognizable tattoos in the league. And, according to the ESPN analyst, it’s not for a good reason! The NBA champ actually received the ink when he was 17-years-old and visiting the University of Arizona.
According to Jefferson, “I go there, no thought, no nothing and I was like, ‘I have no idea what I should get’ and [Bibby, my host] was like, ‘Just get your initials.'” Up until that point, no one called Jefferson “RJ.” Whoops.
Jayson Tatum Just Doesn’t Quit
Jayson Tatum has quite a lot of ink on his body, but one leg tattoo definitely stands out when he’s running down the court with the rest of his Boston Celtics teammates. The phrase “I Just Didn’t Quit” inked into the back of his calf.
A tribute to the rapper Nipsey Hussle, many players in the NBA either have lyrics, portraits, and/or the duel checkered flags somewhere on their bodies.
Kyrie Irving’s Tattoo Symbolizes The Hermetic Brotherhood Of Luxor
Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving has a very interesting tattoo on the back of his right hand. An eye inside a star inside of a circle surrounded by various other glyphs, the tattoo actually symbolizes The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, an occult group that went public back in 1894.
Of course, the tattoo has left fans speculating if the NBA player has up and joined the Illuminati when he’s not busy training and playing games.
Javale McGee’s Won Three Championships
One of NBA center Javale McGee’s tattoos symbolizes a great triumph in his life, the three times he helped his teams, the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers, win their respective NBA Championship games.
With an image of the championship trophy, the team’s initials, and the year they won, McGee’s ink is a great tribute to the hard work he and his team put in to become the best.
LeBron James, The “Chosen 1”
After being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2002, LeBron James got “Chosen 1” tattooed across his back, his cover story’s title. Wildly considered the greatest basketball player of all time, the four-time NBA champ was only a junior in high school when he got the phrase inked on his body.
Ironically, the editors of the magazine weren’t sure about the title of James’ story since he was a young and impressionable teenager at the time.
Trae Young Creates His Own Reality
Point guard for the Atlanta Hawks, Trae Young, has a few tattoos, but one, in particular, has a pretty ingenious meaning. On his right bicep, Young has what looks like two arrowheads pointing up.
An old Viking symbol, the arrows mean “create your own reality.” It’s a beautiful message that Young has definitely lived by, considering he’s worked hard and trained his entire life to become a professional athlete and NBA All-Star.
Derrick Rose, Aka “Poohdini”
Point guard Derrick Rose has a very interesting and unique tattoo on his right shoulder. There, he has a red-eyed wizard looming over a “crystal basketball” with the word “Poohdini” over it.
While it’s clearly a play on the magician Houdini, there is actually a deeper meaning. According to the NBA player, his grandma used to call him Pooh, like Winnie the Pooh, and the nickname just stuck. It’s a sweet tribute!
Danny Green Is All About His Marvel And DC Characters
For Philadelphia 76ers shooting guard Danny Green, tattoo sleeves are all about Marvel and DC characters, both good guys and villains. Green went all out on his right arm, getting detailed portraits of some big-name players in the comics.
Inked on his arm are portraits of the villains Deadshot and Bullseye and the superheroes Gambit and Hawkeye. It’s an interesting combination of characters that make for one really cool-looking arm sleeve.
Sean Kilpatrick Is Inspired By The Hustle
Shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick is so heavily inked that he’s found his preferred artist in Roc of RocEm Tattooz in Yonkers, New York. In 2019, he frequented the studio and received two massive thigh tattoos.
The “Undrafted” tattoo is a reminder of his NBA career, how it was no easy journey, and he was literally undrafted for a long time. His other work, “inspired by the hustle,” commemorates the player’s unwavering work ethic and how he didn’t give up until he was in NBA.
D’Angelo Russell’s Time Is N:0W
When D’Angelo Russell’ was first drafted into the NBA in 2015, one of his known phrases was “loading,” as in he was loading his success. According to Russell, the phrase means, “I’m loading to success. Like, my dreams are right around the corner.”
Years later, Russell sports a new tattoo that all but throws his signature phrase out the window. On his left shoulder, he has “N:0W” written in a clock font, symbolizing that his time is now and is no longer loading.
Kyle Kuzma’s Monkeys Know How To Avoid Bad Behavior
On his right calf, NBA power forward Kyle Kuzma has a tattoo of three monkeys. But they’re not ordinary monkeys. These three represent the age-old philosophy of “hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil.”
And while the art is almost cartoonish in nature, the concept is still one Kuzma likes to live by. And who can blame the NBA player? It’s a better motto to live by than “monkey see monkey do!”
J.J. Reddick’s Gospel Sleeve
It’s pretty hard to miss the sleeve on shooting guard J.J Reddick, considering it literally covers his entire arm. In a 2015 interview with Z podcast, Reddick explained the ink, saying, “It’s the four evangelical symbols of the Gospel.”
“So there’s Matthew who’s a winged man, Mark is a winged lion, Luke is a winged ox, and John is an eagle. Each animal kind of represents a different characteristic of Christianity. It turned out great.”
Gary Payton, Gary Payton, Gary Payton
On his upper leg, former NBA point guard Gary Payton sports a very large and very detailed portrait of Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice. One of many portraits on his leg sleeve, including a face tattooed version of Marilyn Monroe, the tribute to the 1988 film makes us want to say the former player’s name three times and see if he shows up.
Either way, Big Toons in Las Vegas sure knows how to ink a beautifully realistic portrait.
Keita Bates-Diop’s Family Tree
Keita Bates-Diop might love playing small forward for the San Antonio Spurs, but if his tattoo says anything, it’s that family means a whole lot more to him than an NBA contract.
On his left arm, from shoulder to elbow, Bates-Diop has a tattoo of a family tree. On the trunk is the name Clyde and going from the left branches to the right, the names read, Kai, Mom and Dad, Nayanya, Mema, and Babu.
Jeremy Lamb Is Humble About The ’90s Bubble Letters
Indiana Pacers shooting guard Jeremy Lamb is covered in ink, but one leg tattoo stands out for a strange reason. While the message to stay humble is great and meaningful, the NBA player probably could have done without the 1990s Lisa Frank bubble letters and accompanying stars, swirls, and Pegasus horse.
But, hey, to each their own when it comes to what’s going to be permanently inked onto their skin, right?!
Derrick Rose’s “God Speed” Neck Tattoo
To start, it’s ironic that Derrick Rose has gone on record saying that he is terrified of needles. Known to throw a bit of a fit even if he needed stitches; the youngest MVP in NBA history then goes and gets a neck tattoo in 2019!
The tattoo, a triangle with sun rays, and the phrase “God Speed” might be one of Rose’s most famous and well-known tattoos, but it also might have been his most painful.
Dennis Rodman Set A Tattoo Standard
Known for being one of the first players in the NBA to sport visible tattoos, it’s safe to say former NBA legend Dennis Rodman set a strange standard — tattoos for all! The self-proclaimed bad boy of the NBA, Rodman, has more than one tattoo donning his left arm.
A very 1990s-esk sun design, a shark, a horseshoe, and a red die, it’s unclear what type of theme Rodman was going for here. But, hey, being eccentric and out there is kind of his MO.
Isaiah Thomas With Nipsey Hussle Lyrics
Point guard Isaiah Thomas paid tribute to rapper Nipsey Hussle, getting a tattoo of lyrics from his song “Racks” as well as the signature dual checkered flags, commemorating the album Victory Lap.
The lyrics are pretty sound for a professional athlete, too. “I been fighting battles up a steep hill” can definitely be interpreted as the hill Thomas had to climb to be where he is today, as a professional basketball player.
Marvin Bagley III Is All About Family
During the 2020 offseason, Marvin Bagley III of the Sacramento Kings decided to get a very large tattoo on his right forearm. The ink is one big, bold word, “family.”
Unlike a lot of his teammates and fellow NBA players, Bagley III doesn’t have a whole lot of ink on his arms, let alone large pieces of work (at least at the time this picture was taken). When he walked into the locker room for the first time post-tattoo, his teammates were probably shocked!
Nassir Little’s Pharaoh Tattoo
Portland Trail Blazers small forward Nassir might have the last name Little, but that tattoo on his arm is anything but. In fact, the detailed Egyptian Pharaoh tattoo pretty much takes up half of Little’s entire right arm!
Complete with a King Tut-ask mask, pyramids, and even a Sphinx, Little didn’t hold back when he walked into the tattoo parlor with a vision in his head — an Egyptian-themed sleeve with just the right amount of detail.