Tatted-up NBA generation shoots a fadeaway on its ink
"Only God Can Judge Me" is the phrase that has adorned Knicks point guard Mike Bibby's right calf for a decade. That defiant message is fading, along with three other large tattoos 33-year-old former star no longer wants.
"I just want to be a little bit cleaner, that's all," said Bibby, who will retain tattooed likenesses of his three children on his back.
Bibby's website still includes a section explaining his tattoos, many of which will remain. But to fans who grew up watching the dynamic point guard, Bibby said, "I got mine when I was young. ... It's memories. And you always remember memories."
In the NBA, where well over half of players have tats, the decisions of players such as Bibby, teammate Tyson Chandler and former Knick Tracy McGrady - all of whom are removing at least one tattoo - represent an inevitable but little-noticed byproduct of a generation that popularized an obsession with body art.
"I definitely see guys getting ink removed," said Chandler, 29, whose flaming basketball tattoo, underlined with "TYSON," has nearly vanished from his left arm.
"It's funny because you don't want to ask them," Chandler added with a chuckle. "You don't know if it's a bad tattoo or if they're getting it removed."
Chandler said he sneaked out on his mom in Los Angeles to get tatted at age 14.
"That's what happens, see?" he said. "You don't listen to your parents and you end up suffering the pain years down the road."
While the 7-foot-1 center was removing his juvenile design this past summer, he was also enveloping his shot-blocking right arm with vibrant ink where there had previously been a design patterned after one of the NBA's original tattooed stars, Allen Iverson.
Former Knicks guard Larry Hughes, a protege of Iverson's in Philadelphia who has taken a nearly-every-inch approach to body art, said tattoo removal "doesn't make sense to me." His countless designs include two permanent teardrops under his left eye, added after his brother Justin died of heart failure at age 20.
"I would never get anything removed," said the 32-year-old Hughes, now with the Orlando Magic. "I didn't do it for show. That's how I express myself, and I feel like what I have on me is especially me."
Knicks forward Bill Walker, 24, who has a neck tattoo, scoffed at the possibility of removing it.
"For what?" Walker said. "Somebody judges you off your tattoos so you want to change now? I got them for a reason and I'm keeping them."
Meanwhile, Magic forward Glen Davis, 26, suggested that within five years, he would begin to chip away at the ink surrounding his right arm, just like Bibby.
"He's on the last limb of his career as far as basketball," Davis said. "Now he has to go in the world and know to work. And how do you do that? You blend in with the guys who have done it - who come in with a suit and tie with no tattoos."