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“Dudes are not messing around [now] with them cheap tattoos.” — Damian Lillard on today’s NBA tattoo culture

Studies indicate that 56% of NBA players are inked, most of which now have personalized tattoos — a far cry from the past generation.
Detail view of the tattoos on Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard

NBA players aren't spared from the tattoo rave that has only exponentially grown globally over the past decade. What has once been considered an anomaly in the league is now a common practice more than ever, as studies indicate that 56% of NBA players are inked — a far cry from the times when the likes of Dennis Rodman and Allen Iverson were ambushed and even threatened for such practice.

With more freedom comes more creativity.

Unlike back in the day, today's generation of players no longer have to rebel or even be called to the commissioner's office to get a tattoo. It became such a common practice that the NBA eventually decided to let the restriction go. And as more players gradually embraced the art, designs needled on their bodies went from common tattoo themes to more achievement-centric and personalized aesthetics.

"It wasn't as creative as it is now," Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard told Andscape about this era's tattoo styles. "Dudes are not messing around [now] with them cheap tattoos," Lillard, a player part of the generation that made tattoos a common practice in the league, added.

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"I have a Mount Rushmore of my mom, my dad, my grandparents and my uncle Richard. There's people beyond those people that played a major role in who I am, but everyone couldn't fit," Lillard, who personalized his body with his family tributes, said. "That's an important one to me because those people will live with me forever," Lillard added.

Back in the '90s and early 2000s, many players followed the trends that Rodman and Iverson set, most of which even went as far as copying a corresponding design. For example, in 2007, according to Andscape, more than 20 players had the AND1 logo design on their arms. Even LeBron James himself copied Iverson's "Hold My Own" tattoo, which is still present in his left biceps today.

But as time progressed and the evolution of social media became more relevant than ever, players have had more diversity with the designs they want on their bodies. Part of the conversations in NBA locker rooms these days is about tattoo artists, which a player or staff likely refers to another. Case in point, it was Trail Blazers' previous assistant coach David Vanterpool that referred tattoo artist Steve Wiebe to Lillard.

The NBA's culture growth off the court

Like the basketball product itself, the NBA also transformed off the court in various ways. From one's clothing, persona, tattoos, and general online presence, players have never had this much liberty in their lives. This is merely because of the trendsetters before them, who fought for the freedom this generation now wears loud and proud. 

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