The 20 Best Tattoos in Sports History

Colin Ward-HenningerContributor IJune 3, 2011

The 20 Best Tattoos in Sports History

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    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    The right to bare arms is apparently not in the constitution of professional athletics.

    It seems as if every athlete has some sort of ink on his body, usually displayed somewhere on the arms for all to see.

    Athletes get bored looking at the blank canvas of their bodies and, as their career progresses, many turn their bodies into a tapestry of artwork.

    And some get a backwards Pittsburgh Pirates "P" tattooed on their faces.

    While most tattoos are seen by the general public as foolish, and there are countless lists of the dumbest or worst tattoos in sports, there are some pretty elaborate pieces of art on some athletes' bodies.

    I thought it was time they got their due.

20. Nate Robinson: Seattle Skyline

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    Who: Nate Robinson, Former University of Washington, current Oklahoma City Thunder guard.

    What: Nighttime Seattle Skyline.

    Where: Back of Neck.

    Nate has more tattoos than he can count, but this is one of his more recent pieces. Robinson was born and raised in Seattle ("tha 206"), so he got the black city skyline put on his neck.

    I've yet to visit Seattle, but any place where this kid was raised is fine by me.

19. Jeremy Shockey: Eagle and American Flag

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    Who: Jeremy Shockey - Carolina Panthers tight end, four-time Pro Bowl selection, two-time Super Bowl champion.

    What: Eagle Wrapped in American Flag.

    Where: Right Shoulder and Bicep.

    Say what you will about Jeremy Shockey, but this is a fine piece of art. If you look at the close-up, you'll see just how intricate and detailed the eagle is.

    We're not sure whether Shockey is full of patriotism or just thought it looked cool, but there couldn't be a more American gesture than getting the eagle and the flag tattooed on your arm.

18. Rasheed Wallace: Egyptian Art

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    Who: Rasheed Wallace, former NBA power forward, four-time All-Star, 2004 NBA Champion.

    What: Egyptian gods Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their children below rays of the sun.

    Where: Right shoulder and bicep.

    Sheed is often labeled as an ill-tempered, unpredictable player with an attitude problem. Sure he picked up his fair share of technical fouls, but every player who ever talks about him says he's a great guy who's a lot deeper than people think.

    This Egyptian tattoo proves that Sheed (or at least his tattoo artist) has a decent knowledge of history and that his thoughts are a lot deeper than most people give him credit for.

17. Drew Gooden: Dali-Style Melting Clock

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    Who: Drew Gooden, Milwaukee Bucks power forward.

    What: Melting Clock with flames and St. Michael.

    Where: Left Shoulder and Bicep.

    You have to appreciate any tattoo that pays homage to one of the great artists of all time, Salvador Dali. According to Sports by Brooks, Gooden had been planning this tattoo for several years.

    The clock is set to 11:11 for good luck and it also contains and image of St. Michael, who is known as a guardian angel.

16. Daniels: Map of Florida

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    Who: Marquis Daniels, Sacramento Kings guard.

    What: Map of the State of Florida; complete with city names and highlighted "407" area code.

    Where: Lower Half of Back.

    Marquis Daniels has made some dumb decisions when it comes to art, but this wasn't one of them. Many athletes pay homage to their hometowns by getting their area code tattooed on their bodies.

    Daniels goes one further and lets everybody know exactly where he comes from.

    Some might think the tattoo is stupid, but for an athlete that makes millions of dollars, it's easy to get distracted. It never hurts to have a reminder about your roots.

15. Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Family Tribal Markings

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    Who: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, striker for AC Milan, captain of Sweden National Team

    What: Tribal Markings representing his family.

    Where: Right Shoulder and Bicep

    I have to admit that I don't know much about this tattoo except that it is "tribal" and represents Ibrahimovic's family.

    Zlatan is Swedish but he's of Bosnian and Croatian descent, so I'm not sure which tribe the tattoo comes from.

    He has the name of his sons and the birth dates of all his family members tattooed on other parts of his body, so it's clear that family is important to him.

    Plus the tattoo just looks cool. And it's better than the usual "tribal" tattoos you see on most dudes

14. Jason Giambi: Dragon

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    Who: Jason Giambi, Colorado Rockies first baseman, 2000 AL MVP.

    What: Flying, Fire-Breathing Dragon

    Where: Right Shoulder and Bicep.

    The Giambino brought his "bad boy" image to baseball when he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated looking like the bassist of a rock band, so his tattoos are no secret.

    I particularly like the flying dragon on his right arm. It loops around in a cool way and it's even breathing fire.

    I'm not sure if Giambi had to continue to get touch-ups due to the freakish growth rate of his arms, but they did a nice job, nonetheless.

13. Wilson Chandler: Juggernaut

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    Who: Wilson Chandler, Denver Nuggets forward.

    What: The word, "UNSTOPPABLE" with a large image of Juggernaut underneath.

    Where: Back.

    Usually I'm not a fan of the writing across the top of the back, and this one would be no different were it not for the large image of what appears to be Juggernaut from X-Men.

    I wasn't aware that Chandler was into comics, but the image is certainly appropriate for the "unstoppable" description it accompanies. 

12. Devin Thomas: Conan the Barbarian

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    Who: Devin Thomas, Former Michigan, current New York Giants wide receiver.

    What: Conan the Barbarian and one of his many conquests.

    Where: Right Rib Cage.

    I know this tattoo is pretty dumb on the surface, but any time you can get Arnold Schwarzenegger on your body I say go for it. At least Thomas has an explanation:

    "That's Conan. Yeah, and I got the Predator on the other side. I got my favorite movies: Conan, Predator, and 300."

    Sounds like Thomas, not unlike Mr. Michael Bolton, is a major cinephile.

11. Djibril Cissé: Angel Wings

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    Who: Djibril Cissé, striker for Panathinaikos, France National Team.

    What: Angel Wings.

    Where: Back.

    A lot of athletes, and people in general, try to pull off the angel wings on the back and they're usually a colossal failure. Somehow Cissé has managed to pull them off, and given the fact that soccer players take their shirts off after every match, we get to see them pretty often.

10. Matt Kemp: Ancient Greek Warrior

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    Who: Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder.

    What: Ancient Greek Warrior with Sword.

    Where: Left Forearm.

    What can I say, I'm a sucker for the classics. I can't find anything from Kemp himself, but apparently he is a huge fan of Greek mythology and got this image of an Ancient Greek warrior with wings and a sword.

    Whatever it is, it's working. Kemp is having his best season yet.

9. J.R. Smith: Animated Characters

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    Who: J.R. Smith, Denver Nuggets guard.

    What: Assortment of Original Cartoon Characters.

    Where: Back.

    At first I was put off by the "Just Klownin" written at the top, but then I realized that J.R. Smith had created an entire Saturday morning animated series based on his life. The guy in the center wearing a "1" jersey and a mohawk appears to be Smith himself, while I can only assume the rest of the characters are people that have been, or he hopes will be, in his life someday.

    Be sure to set your DVR's for Just Klownin, starting next Saturday on TBS!

8. Kenyon Martin: Cross

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    Who: Kenyon Martin, Denver Nuggets forward, 2004 All-Star.

    What: Cross and "I Shall Fear No Man But God."

    Where: Back.

    I know, I know. Kenyon Martin should never be forgiven for getting his girlfriend's lips tattooed on his neck. I really didn't want to include him on this list, but the tattoo was just too good.

    The cross and writing has been done a million times, so it's hard to make one that stands out. The shape and shadowing on this tattoo is awesome, and the writing seems to fit perfectly.

    We might night be able to forgive him, but we have to give it up to Kenyon on this one.

7. Dennis Rodman: Bulls

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    Who: Dennis Rodman, Former Chicago Bulls forward, NBA Hall of Fame class of 2011.

    What: Snorting Bulls.

    Where: Upper Chest.

    You had to know that Rodman would be on this list somewhere. He has a lot of tattoos, but my favorite has to be the two bulls facing each other on his chest. The first association is obviously with the Chicago Bulls, where Rodman had the best years of his career.

    But the Chicago Bulls actually have nothing to do with the tattoo. As AJ from dennisrodman.com recently told me, the animals actually represent Rodman's birth sign, Taurus the Bull.

    The other reason I like them is because they represent the inner beast, as well as the inner conflict, that exists within Dennis Rodman.

6. Andrei Kirilenko: Winged Creature

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    Who: Andrei Kirilenko, Utah Jazz forward.

    What: Winged Creature of Death

    Where: Back.

    Some might find this one a little creepy, but I am a fan of any tattoo that is this detailed and unique. Art is meant to be an expression of inner feeling, and there's definitely a lot of feelings going on in this piece.

5. Gilbert Arenas: Tiger

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    Who: Gilbert Arenas, Orlando Magic guard, three-time NBA All-Star.

    What: Outline of a Tiger's Face.

    Where: Lower Chest and Abdomen.

    The coolest part about this tattoo is that at first you can't really tell what it is. When you look closer, you realize just how intricate and accurate the tiger's face actually is.

    Plus he gets credit for not doing something cheesy like making the nipples the tiger's eyes and his belly button the tiger's mouth. You see it way too often.

4. Cherokee Parks: Snakes and Skull

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Who: Cherokee Parks, former NBA center.

    What: Skull with Snakes and Flames in the background.

    Where: Left Shoulder and Bicep.

    Cherokee Parks was a serviceable backup center, but his claim to fame was definitely his body art. Cherokee had a number of tattoos, but this one has to be my favorite.

    I'm not sure what it is, or what it symbolizes, but it definitely looks cool. He summed up his preferences in an interview with USA Today:

    "I like big, big bold pictures and lots of color...a lot of old-school stuff. Some guys have themes. Most guys just do black work. I like stuff that's going to hold color."

3. Monta Ellis: Family Tree

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    Who: Monta Ellis, Golden State Warriors guard, 2007 NBA Most Improved Player.

    What: Family Tree with "Family First" written above it.

    Where: Chest and Abdomen.

    Monta Ellis is no stranger to tattoos, but his most recent one has to be his best. The branches of Ellis' "family tree" spread all the way across his chest, while the trunk heads down his abdomen to the root system around his belly button.

    The tattoo definitely looks cool, and you can't argue with the message. I'm not sure if the little tree nymphs are supposed to represent family members, but if they are then the tattoo is that much cooler. 

2. Chris Andersen: Birdman Wings

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    Who: Chris Andersen, Denver Nuggets forward/center.

    What: Bird's Wings.

    Where: Underside of Right and Left Biceps.

    Chris Andersen is better known as "The Birdman," so it's only fitting that he has bird wings tattooed underneath his arms.

    Andersen has plenty of ink to choose from, not all of which is necessary or relevant, but when asked to describe the wings, he said, "Ah, man that's just my free bird. No matter what happens you can't hold me down for too long, 'cause I'ma get back to flight!"

    For a guy that managed to overcome substance abuse problems and a two-year expulsion from the NBA to re-establish himself as one of the top bench players in the game, the tattoo is an appropriate symbol.

1. Derrick Rose: Sweet Home Chicago

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    Who: Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls guard, 2010-11 NBA MVP.

    What: Chicago Skyline with basketball in the background and words "Sweet Home Chicago."

    Where: Back of Left Hand.

    Derrick Rose is one of the best, most exciting players in the game. Not only does he play in Chicago, but he was also born and raised there, so it's only fitting that he has a tattoo of his home city somewhere.

    He gets extra props for getting it on the back of his hand. That much ink on such a sensitive area has to hurt.

Bonus: Kobe Bryant Makeup Tattoo

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    Who: Kobe Bryant - Los Angeles Lakers guard, 2008 NBA MVP, 2-Time NBA Finals MVP.

    What: "I'm Sorry" disguised as some sort of design.

    Where: Right Shoulder and Bicep.

    Kobe Bryant was known for being the one NBA superstar who didn't have tattoos. That all went out the window when a $4-million diamond ring apparently wasn't enough to say "I'm sorry" to his wife, Vanessa, after he admitted to cheating on her.

    Kobe got this tattoo done, complete with Vanessa's name and a crown over it, possibly to indicate that she's some sort of princess.

    Below her name is also the outline of her hair. Yeah, the man knows how to apologize when he screws up.