March Madness Swarf

By Lloyd Graff

Tattoos on NBA players irritate me. Lebron James has 17 body tattoos that have been identified. Though it is suspected that he has others which have not appeared in photos.

I see the proliferation of body hieroglyphics as a reflection of the “look at me I’m a star” braggadocio that sullies the slam dunk league. I am an old school basketball purist who revels in team play and a flawless fast-break. I love a Steve Nash or a Chris Paul because they can score and dish and improvise the game into Brubeck jazz.

I ask myself if my annoyance with tattoos is latent racism, generational divide, or just hoops snobbery. It probably has some of all three elements. Though I see a Chris Anderson as the ultimate narcissist, a mediocre white player displaying himself like a spooked peacock.

Anybody who follows my writing knows that I am a sports enthusiast. Basketball has been a love since I watched Bob Cousy make no-look behind the back passes to Bill Russell for the Boston Celtics. I think Lebron is the most talented basketball player I’ve ever watched, but watching him take over a game with one on one play in the fourth quarter is as annoying as looking at his tattoos.

Question: Do you feel that body ink is symptomatic of a thuggified cult of personality NBA or am I a hopelessly out of touch Frank Sinatra white guy in a Lil Wayne’s world?

Chris Andersen & his tattoos

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15 thoughts on “March Madness Swarf

  1. Deborah Rudy

    I think you’re on target with the “thuggified cult of personality NBA”. My husband has said for years that NBA players behave like muggers in short pants.

  2. Brian "Snooty" Hoff

    Great question. I feel as you do but I cannot help but wonder if there isn’t some latent racism / old school thinking going on in my head. Regardless of race I do get irritated with the flagrant “look at me” attitudes that pervade our sports stars & celebrities. I think the internet & cheap TV have also played their part in allowing a huge population of people to practice their free speech & expression to new levels. It’s a worldwide competition to seek more attention and this shows up on the court & on the screen in behavior that was once frowned upon but now seems to be the deciding factor seperating the “winners” from the “losers”. Strange.


    Out of touch, I have tattoo’s and it’s a preference.
    Don’t think judging people from the outside but from within.

  4. Jake Worden

    I had to laugh reading this because I thought I was the only one with these thoughts. The whole tats, goth, body piercing, scantily clad teenagers this past 10-20 years has always baffled me. What is wrong with these people – or their parents? Or, what is wrong with me… am I now one of those “old people” that I used to make fun of when they would make fun of our disco music?
    But it comes down to this: It’s their constitutional right to deform themselves in any manner that they see fit, as long as it doesn’t encroach on my rights. Consequently, when flipping through the TV channels, I regularly skip past NBA games, “reality TV” shows, and Paris Hilton “news” headlines. To me, they are all freaks – but it’s their right to be freaks. It’s also my right to not watch shows that endorse them, or place them on a pedestal as “role models.” In short, just change the channel. 🙂

  5. Ray Chalmers

    I also laugh and try to explain to my teenagers that tattoos used to be the symbol of non-conformity (or that you were a sailor, Marine, or biker). When every other high-school kid has some Japanese character for serenity or lower-back tramp stamp, my response is that it’s a real symbol of non-conformity to be symbol-free. As you can imagine, the whoosh of that going over their heads could tip a cow.

  6. Diane Haberer

    I personally hate tattoos. To me, they are just plain ugly on anybody. But it is their right and perogitive to deface their bodies. It just means that I won’t watch them or their sport. I know many nice people who have tattoos (ex. sister and brother-in-law), but I ask them to cover them up when we go out together. If you have them, I prefer not to know.

  7. Peter Schroth

    Maybe it is a reflection of the Commodification of America and the world. Everything is for sale from phone sex to naming rights of a War Memorial and if everything in a society for sale there needs to be advertising everywhere including your body. These tattoos are advertisements.

    Reminds me of the Neil Young song

    “This Note’s For You”

    Don’t want no cash
    Don’t need no money
    Ain’t got no stash
    This note’s for you.

    Ain’t singin’ for Pepsi
    Ain’t singin’ for Coke
    I don’t sing for nobody
    Makes me look like a joke
    This note’s for you.

    Ain’t singin’ for Miller
    Don’t sing for Bud
    I won’t sing for politicians
    Ain’t singin’ for Spuds
    This note’s for you.

    Here is a youtube link

  8. Bob Martin

    Let’s all be careful of narrow viewpoints and judgements that do not fit our social acceptance. LeBron James has been judged and criticized since his high school days with expectations of failure. If you are a fan of basketball Mr.Graff, expand your restricking views and analyze the skills and athletic ability you are seeing, which epitomizes and exceeds Bob Cousy, Larry Bird, Bill Russell and even Micheal Jordan. Evaluate the evidence and facts. Do you have evidence of a thuggified cult, braggadocio, look at me I’m a star OR do you have evidence of an extreme team player that exceeds at all levels of the game? Making every player on the floor a threat. Evaluate the charactor and ability and avoid the criticizm until the individual displays evidence of a LOSER. Tryin to keep you IN TOUCH, Lloyd !!!

  9. Sam

    Funny this should post today. A buddy of mine and I were talking last night. We live in Indianapolis and were talking about the Pacers and this very issue came up. We are both “old school” (50+) and were asking similar questions. Are we too old, racist or justifiably repulsed by all the tattoos and as others have said the thuggery involved in the league today.. You don’t seem to see this nearly as much in football or baseball. He had said that it seemed as if the league had deteriorated over the past few years with the “new” breed. I don’t go to games partly because of this and partly because of the price of tickets considering the value for the dollar spent. My 2 cents.

  10. Tim

    I think it is definitely a generational divide. I don’t think race has anything to do with it, although race may be involved in terms of the messages displayed through body ink.

    In my experience, many of those who do the ‘ttoo are expressing what they believe at their core, something they don’t see changing between now and death do they part. Something they want to share with others.. While some may be offended by the audacity of public display of body ink, ultimately I think the problem lies in the mind of the beholder. Freedom of expression is one thing we should think long and hard about before we move to limit or discredit.

    In the same respect, body ink that is used strictly to shock or offend speaks to another aspect of the carrier’s character, and like it or not, they will be judged (in this life, at least) accordingly by those around them.

    Incidentally, I had a nephew murdered last year. My kids, and all of his cousins plan to get a tattoo in his honor. While I’m not personally into body ink, such a use of the art seems quite acceptable. For each of them, individually, it will be a constant reminder of who they lost, and the tragedy of violence in our society.

  11. Dave Tebben

    Roughly 15 years ago this was predicted on a NPR opinion piece. The speaker predicted the NBA would have a problem in about 10 years attracting fans. The average fan was a middle aged white guy who played high school basketball (Lloyd, is that a decent description of you in the mid 90’s?)

    The guy went on to say the NBA was in trouble in the late 70’s when Bird and Magic arrived on the scene. Both consummate team players who raised the level of play of those around them. After that Michael Jordan arrived–a phenomenal player. The NBA started marketing the stars and not the teams. Then the NBA stars started changing, thinking the game was about them and not the teams. The speaker predicted that this would alienate the league’s core fan–middle aged white guy who played high school hoops (by the way, this describes me too).

    So the tattoo talk today. Great post. But I wonder, is it the tattoos or the gap the NPR speaker predicted years ago?

  12. Steven Horn

    Thugs. That explains why the NBA doesn’t interest so many people. You also have a big choice of colledge hoops where they play a full game at full speed. Than you have the NBA where they play the last 8 minutes.

  13. J Friedman

    Let’s look at the basics. You are in the machining business. It is a precision business where the product is generally put into something that must be salable, so the outer covering needs to be somewhat appealing. There is beauty in the symmetry and production values of machined products.

    The human body is a work of art, some more beautious than others. It appears as if you are saying that tatoos and piercings are needlessly defacing the human body. Clearly, tatoos are permanent statements and right or wrong, good or bad, they change the appearance of the person. Some look at tatoos and piercing as body art, and art is in the eye of the beholder. What others may consider as beautiful, you may not. Try going to an art museum. You will not appreciate every work you see and you will wonder why some works are valuable.

    That being said, we will always be smarter tomorrow than we were today. So it is risky business to make a permanent choice today, like a tatoo, that commits us to the future. You can go to college and change a major, but a tatoo is a decision that cannot be undone without pain and leaving some vestige of the regretted choice.

    Piercing is not really a big problem. The problem for most viewers is the location and the jewelry. Artistic choice. Having second thoughts about a piercing generally leaves only a hole that generally won’t close up by itself, small problem.

    Historically, tatoos and piercings harken back to more primitive times when they were signs of virility and accomplishment. Today, all you have to do have enough money and resolve. There are stories galore on the internet of people who do not realize that their tatooed Asian symbol is backwards. Still other stories abound about people who thought they were getting tatoos of words like “fortitude” only to learn later that they had permanently labeled themselves with words like “kung pao chicken.” When you send flowers, it’s the thought that counts. When you get a tatoo, it’s the gift that keeps giving.

    The basketball players, football players and other athletes have walked their talk. They are entertainers to us, but within their realm they are the warriors, the best. But, even in the genteel sport of golf, we have found our athlete role models to be flawed. Athletes are no longer role models just because they are athletes. Copying their clothes, tatoos and body piercing is not as attractive if their off court behavior is felonious or unethical. Even copying the tatoos and piercing of rock stars does not impart the money, lifestyle or talent of the copied person.

    Several years ago I told my early teen daughters that they could have tatoos that day if I could choose the tatoos. They were very excited and started putting on their coats. They stopped and asked what I was going to choose. I told them that I hadn’t decided yet between Barney the Purple Dinosaur and the Cookie Monster. “Dad, I used to like both of them, but I don’t want their tatoos today” was their response (paraphrased.) I asked them if they thought they would like to be college students wearing tatoos they chose at the age of 13. Could they be sure if they would be happy with those tatoos when they were in their 20’s? Their answers were not nearly as important as the thought that I ignited.

    So periodically I would ask them what tatoos they would get today, then on some day after tomorrow I would ask them about their past choices. I think they have found that henna tatoos last about a week which coincides with the interest they have in the tatoos. Their ear piercings I can live with.


  14. Peter Bagwell

    My wife is a massage therapist and she’s been stunned by the amount of people who have tattoos ‘hidden’. As a 30 something I think the hype is fad, and what a shame it is when I see young people make lifelong commitments to slogans they will likely change their feelings about within the next few years of their life. It’s pretty hard to get to know that person in the ‘inside’ when your so distracted by the message on the ‘outside’.

  15. Bill Hopcraft

    Lloyd, once again you’ve brought up a thought provoking topic with many aspects. Race and generational issues are certainly part of it, but I think the key point is modern society’s insatiable need for entertainment or, more particularly, its need to be entertained. Having a TV or video player in your home is no longer enough, now you need one in your car and in your phone. Heaven forbid that someone be out of touch with the latest escapades of the slut of the month. We demand instant and continuous access to video, music, games, and almost every other kind of outside stimulus. Think for ourselves? Why bother when we can be in instant touch and find out what the rest of the world is thinking.

    The highest rewards in modern society are for those who best entertain us. TV, movie, and music personalities are on top of the heap, but sports figures are right in there, too. He who grabs the most headlines gets the biggest payday. And what better way to get headlines than by outrageous behavior or bizarre appearance. Hence, the illustrated humanoids of the tatoo world.

    Machinists are usually people who can make something from just an idea. They can think through a problem and fix things. The can look beyond something’s appearance and admire the way it functions. Their stimulation comes not from outside sources, but from that inner spark called creativity. So relax, Lloyd, you’re not being racist or showing your age just because you don’t like Lebron’s tats. You’re just showing that you can think for yourself.


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