It was a Sunday night in March of 1996 when my phone rang. It was my brother-in-law, who had a few more drinks in him than usual, calling to wish me a happy 18th birthday.
The rest is history.
Minutes after hanging up, I took a box cutter to a pair of Purdue University basketball shorts and cut out the train logo that rested in its dazzle fabric. My brother-in-law picked me up and took me to some strange guy's basement a few blocks away.
I would spend the next four hours getting my first tattoo; that train logo etched into my right shoulder, to represent my nickname, A-Train.
Quite silly in retrospect, but at least it was something meaningful and a bit unique.
A few years later, around the year 2000, tattoos went mainstream. This art of decorative body modification, historically frowned upon as being representative of criminal or "lowlife" culture, became a widely accepted artistic form of expression. Everyone was getting not just one, but several (I got two more).
Including pro athletes.
Of course, because baseball, football and hockey players wear uniforms and equipment that cover most of their bodies, it was mostly in the NBA where the general population was exposed to tattoos on a daily basis.
It was in the NBA where the subconscious association between sports and tattoos started.
Today, having tattoos is practically a prerequisite to being a pro athlete. Hell, it used to just be Dennis Rodman. Now, there are thousands of Dennis Rodmans out there.
Tattoos on faces and hands, full sleeves, fingers, necks, legs—you name it. Tattoos of skulls, guns, tear drops, dollar signs, dice—what the hell is going on?
The NBA is increasingly looking a lot like prison ball.
At this rate, don't be surprised the day David Stern replaces tank tops with tee-shirts.
In the meantime, let's take a look at the 20 worst, most awfully heinous, ridiculous and offensive tattoos in the NBA today.