Why Do NBA Players Have So Many Tattoos?

It’s not uncommon to see professional athletes with visible tattoo marks covering parts of their body when they’re in public.

This is especially true for those who play sports like football, baseball, boxing, MMA, etc., where there’s a lot of contact between people which can result in more injuries than other types of physical activities.

But what exactly motivates these kinds of actions?

And more particularly…

Why do professional basketball athletes choose to exhibit so much self-expression via tattoos?

The answer is actually quite simple…

Basketball players usually get tattoos as a way of remembering something or someone who is or was important in their life – be it a family member, a friend or even a pet. In other instances, court players have tattoos to intimidate opponents; to showcase their vast sums of wealth due to the high cost of getting inked, or simply for expressing themselves in a fashionable way.

Reasons why NBA players get tattoos

Now let’s further explore the answers to this question, as well as explain how tattoos relate to social status and identity expression.

1. To remember someone or something that they love

why nba players have so many tattoos - remembering someone or something they love

One way in which tattoos allow you to show your feelings toward a person or thing is by putting it down into writing.

Basketball players like to express themselves in this way as they enjoy having the freedom to act how they please, especially because it gives them a balance away from all the rigors and monotonies of things like practice sessions, food diets and fitness regimes.

Whether it be an animal, a quote or even a phrase from a song lyric, they can write about things that mean a great deal to them while also making them visually appealing at the same time.

For example, a player could take any type of popular saying such as “money doesn’t grow on trees” and put it on them self in ink form by having it written out in cursive font then placing it somewhere prominent on their chest or arm area.

You could also go another route and find a quote that means something special to you and turn it into a tattoo.

For example, if you were born right after 9/11 you could get the following tattoo done (or anything similar):

“The only reason I’m alive today is because my father was working that day.” – Tim McGraw

Another idea would be to put quotes from famous books, movies or television shows that speak volumes to you and your life story.

Something along the lines of ‘Live long enough to make every minute count’ or ‘Life isn’t measured by how many breaths we take but by how deep our breaths.’

These types of tattoos will help tell your story without words ever being able to describe everything you’ve been through up until now.

If you want to add further meaning to certain phrases you might consider getting one word per letter in each sentence instead of just using single letters to represent individual syllables.

The first two letters of each word should be large ones and the rest smaller.

It creates a nice balance aesthetically speaking and allows you to create unique designs within specific themes.

These are just simple ideas you can use to come up with interesting ways to display memorable moments in your life.

No matter whether you decide to keep it small and discreet or big and bold, tattoos give you a creative outlet to share memories of important events in your life.

Ultimately, tattoos provide basketball players with an opportunity to say something personal about themselves before anyone else does.

2. To intimidate opponents through instilling fear

why nba players have so many tattoos - intimidating opponents by instilling fear

Fear has always played a huge part in combat scenarios.

In fact, most military leaders throughout history understood its importance in battle situations and used tactics based around intimidation and fear to control enemy combatants during wartime.

Sports fans and athletes alike understand the power of intimidating opponents with fear and often times employ strategies based on this concept to gain victory over their competition.

So why wouldn’t top level professional athletes do the same?

Maybe they don’t feel confident enough to try to scare their opponent(s) in real life, or maybe they simply enjoy seeing fear displayed prominently on their rivals faces.

Either way, showing fear publicly is a powerful tactic that helps boost confidence levels and gives competitors a sense of empowerment.

A good way that a basketball player can develop their own style of displaying fear is to pick an emotion that evokes anger in them, either positively or negatively, and imprint it on a visible part of their body in order to intimidate their opponents.

Basketball games involve fine margins, and just striking that extra little bit of fear in an adversary could be all the difference between a win and a loss.

After all, everyone reacts differently to various stimuli, so the best way to achieve success is to learn how to manipulate your emotions effectively and appropriately.

Once you master the ability to project anxiety onto others, you’ll be unstoppable!

3. To showcase their wealth because tattoos are expensive

Wealth definitely plays a major role in society and no one wants to believe otherwise.

However, the common perception seems to be that rich individuals are inherently greedy and selfish due to their high-income levels.

While this is partially true, it shouldn’t automatically disqualify people from pursuing goals related to financial freedom.

What makes an affluent person financially free is their willingness to spend money on investments and experiences rather than material possessions.

Basketball players can fall into this bracket of people who like to showcase their vast sums of wealth by getting many tattoos imprinted onto their bodies.

Tattoos are generally quite expensive and not every person is able to afford getting one, so this sort of exhibition separates them into their own “elite tier”.

In fact, the national average cost of a tattoo stands at $250 in America.

That’s by no means cheap or affordable.

4. To express themselves and look cool

why nba players have so many tattoos - expression and looking cool

When you think of fashionable trends, what image pops into mind?

Is it the latest styles of designer jeans, trendy sneakers, fancy purses, bright colored dresses, short skirts or tight pants?

Most women typically wear these types of outfits whenever they attend parties or hangout with friends on weekends.

Although fashion can sometimes be superficial, stylish people usually possess the drive to experiment with new looks and stay current with the latest trends.

Men seem to follow suit as well.

There are countless examples of professional athletes wearing hoodies, baggy shirts, sweatshirts and sweatpants to games and practices.

And that even extends to tattoos!

The rationale behind basketball players having so many tattoos typically stems from the need to look cool and in vogue, especially whilst they sweat it out on the court.

Who was the first player in the NBA with tattoos?

This question doesn’t have a precise answer because of the difficulty involved in going through tons of match footage to spot tattoos.

Not to mention the fact that in the olden days, matches were broadcast in black and white, which made it even harder to notice something so distinctive on an athlete’s body.

But tattoos started to become more widely recognized around the 1970s, as celebrities and other renowned public figures like athletes started having them.

In the NBA, there were two particular players who supposedly started the trend.

Dennis Rodman

Mr Rodman was one of the flashier players to grace the sport.

During the era in which Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dominated proceedings on the court, Rodman was Jordan’s eccentric team mate known for his different stylistic tastes.

Rodman would dye his hair different colors – like lime green for example – and he would love to ink his body with tattoos all over the place!

He was perceived as having a bad boy persona, especially because he used to be a member of the Detroit Pistons – a team known for its aggressive and sometimes overly rough play during games.

Allen Iverson

Allen Iverson was arguably the epitome of black American basketball culture back in the 90s and early 2000s. He braided his hair, wore baggy pants, listened to hip hop and donned fancy basketball sleeves during games.

He also liked to express his thoughts and beliefs with tattoos, because he was always in touch with where he came from as a child and the struggle that he had to endure in his formative years.

Iverson has a tattoo on his shoulder saying “Only The Strong Survive”, as well as having an image that depicted someone putting their hands together in prayer on his chest.

What percentage of NBA players have tattoos?

Quite remarkably, there is data that’s been compiled which digs right into this!

Sports Illustrated relayed the results of a study on this matter, which stated that approximately 56 percent of NBA players are tattooed.

That’s quite a staggering number and much higher than one would even think.

Who knew that the popularity of tattoos amongst players in the game could be that high!

Do any NBA players not have tattoos?

Obviously with the aforementioned figure not at 100 percent, there are bound to be more than a handful of players who don’t have any tattoos inked onto their bodies.

Some famous examples of players who sit in this very category include:


This has been a belter of an article, right?

It’s talked about exactly why NBA players have many tattoos inked all over their bodies.

And in addition to that, it’s also provided some insight into when the trend of having tattoos inked began, as well as the specific players in the sport who supposedly initiated it.

Before you leave, you should also have a look through a related article on why NBA players have thin legs.

About Samuel Waihenya

Samuel is an avid fan of basketball and has been following the sport for over 10 years. He now intends to dedicate his time to produce great content for his own little basketball blog that aims to help its readership with whatever basketball-related topic they can think of. Have a read through Samuel Waihenya's author bio page here.