NBA players display messages in ink

Shortly after Kyrie Irving turned 18, he walked into a tattoo parlor and had his mother's name inscribed over his heart with wings and a halo. Irving has received 12 more tattoos the last two years, but the one of his mother is still his dearest.

His Cleveland Cavaliers teammate, Daniel Gibson, was only 15 when he got his first tattoo: "Honor thy father and mother." Gibson now has so many tattoos; he has lost count. Both arms are covered and he has some on his chest and back. He is almost out of room, although he has saved two spots on his back near his shoulder blades for two more tattoos — one of wife Keyshia Cole and one for his son, Daniel Gibson Jr.

"It's a way of expressing yourself," Gibson said of his tattoos, which he estimates number into the 20s. "When you're a basketball player, your arms are exposed a lot. That's why I got them. It's visible when you play ball."

Tattoos have become as popular in the NBA as dunks and entourages. More than half the players in the league have one, and every tattoo has its own story.

Among his many tattoos, Clippers guard Mo Williams has an NBA tattoo on his back that has nothing to do with basketball, but instead reads "Never Broke Again."

LeBron James has gradually filled his arms and legs with tattoos, beginning with his first tattoo of a lion's head on his right biceps while still in high school.

Over the years, James has added such things as "Chosen1" across his back, script "L" and "J" letters on his triceps, a picture of his son on his inner left forearm and Akron's "330" area code on his right forearm.

On the Cavs, Antawn Jamison has a tattoo of a cross and an angel on his left biceps because of his religious beliefs.

Jamison got the tattoo early in his NBA career, but hasn't added any others.

Tristan Thompson received two tattoos during last summer's lockout. One says "G2S," which stands for "Grind to shine," but his favorite is the "I am my brother's keeper" that Thompson has inscribed across his chest.

"Me being the oldest of four boys, I feel it's only right with me having the opportunity of playing in the NBA to take care of my little brothers and make sure they're all right," he said. "I'm putting that responsibility on myself."

Thompson might eventually add others, but he's wary of getting basketball tattoos and what all that inked-up skin will look like in another 30 years.

"I wanted to get something that was going to mean something so I won't regret it when I'm 50," Thompson said. "A lot of guys get tattoos because maybe they're drunk one night or they think something is cool at the time. I'd never get a basketball tattoo because basketball only lasts so long. When you stop playing the game, it's going to look (dumb)."

Alonzo Gee is full of tattoos. He also loves art and drawing and has created many of his own designs, but his favorite is the "BELIEVE" tattoo on his biceps, which he had done while a rookie in San Antonio a couple of years ago.

"Believe is a very powerful word," he said. "What I believe in, belief in myself, I just like the word."

Tattoos have become so prevalent across the league, it's now rare to see a player without any. Anthony Parker and Samardo Samuels don't have a tattoo. Neither does Ramon Sessions, whom the Cavs recently traded to the Lakers.

Samuels said he was never into them, while Parker is more conservative and deeply religious. He entered the NBA in Philadelphia in the 1990s when Allen Iverson drew attention for covering his body in tattoos, thus beginning the craze we see today.

"It used to be, 'Look at this guy with all the tattoos.' Now you're doing stories and talking to a guy who doesn't have tattoos. That tells you how far things go," Parker said. "It's just something I never wanted to do.

"I know how much my taste changes. For me to get a tattoo, it'd have to be something meaningful.

"A family member, my kids, something like that. I just never thought that I had to do that."

Now guys like Denver's Chris Andersen have taken it to the extreme. Andersen, whose nickname is Birdman, was suspended for two years in 2006 for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

Anderson returned from the suspension covered in tattoos from his rib cage to his neck.

He now has wings tattooed under each arm in honor of his nickname, a gold chain tattooed across his neck and "FREE BIRD" inscribed in large letters that span from his chin to his collar bone.

It is both a play on his nickname and a reference to the Lynyrd Skynyrd song that he claims turned his life around.

Andersen spiraled into a vortex of alcohol and cocaine during his two-year ban, but he told Inked magazine last month it was that song that inspired him to sober up for good.

He said earlier this month that he never gets a tattoo during the season.

"If you take care of them, you won't get infections. None of mine have ever been infected," he said. "But you can't get them during the season because you get scratched and scarred."

Cavs coach Byron Scott looks at all the ink around the league and thinks it's crazy.

It serves as yet another reminder of how Scott comes from a different era of basketball, although surprisingly, he isn't immune to the tattoo craze.

Scott said he and his wife were out to dinner with Reggie Miller and friends a few years ago when Miller confessed that he had recently gotten a tattoo.

"We all had a little too much to drink," Scott said. "(Miller) lifted up his shirt and showed me this new tattoo he got.

"I said, 'Oh that's pretty cool' and he said 'Well yeah! Let's all go down and get another one!' We were all like 'OK!'. . . ."

Now Scott and his wife, Anita, have matching tattoos — a heart and wings — on the same spot on their chests.

"And I won't get another one," Scott said. "Ever again."

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