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On the Eve of the NBA All-Star Game, Phoenix Suns Players Show Off Their Tattoo Canvases

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Like "STAT," Stoudemire's "Black Jesus" stems from a nickname, but Stoudemire told Web site Zimbio.com in December 2007, "Just to clarify, I don't consider myself Black Jesus."

Continuing the Biblical theme, Stoudemire has: "So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called but few are chosen. Matthew 20:16" tattooed on the left side of his chest. Just below this is: "God blessed the child who holds his own."

The rest of his ink, Stoudemire says, is meant to be a legacy for his children. "Most of my tattoos are driven [by my beliefs]," Stoudemire says. "My kids will know what I stood for . . . when I die. All you have to do is read my tattoos and you will know a lot about me and what I lived for."

Less tattooed than Stoudemire, but with just as many self-descriptive and self-affirming words and images, is 36-year-old O'Neal, who has about a dozen tats. And he says every single one had to be approved by his parents. "I have all these tattoos because my parents let me get them," Shaq says (and swears he's not kidding). "I have to fax the designs to them beforehand."

So the first design O'Neal faxed to his parents was the Superman logo, along with the words "Man of Steel," that he has on his left bicep. It was O'Neal's first tattoo, inked in 1993, and he says he chose it "because I'm Superman."

Above the Superman logo, O'Neal has the word "Diesel" (the name he used when he made hip-hop records) with what he says is "supposed to be an Omega head" (as in Omega from the Transformers cartoons). He's also got "Diesel Mafia" tattooed on his chest.

O'Neal has a tattoo on his left forearm of a player dunking a basketball inside a target, with the words "Public Enemy No. 1." O'Neal explains, "I'm public enemy number one, because when you're the best, everybody's out to try to shoot you down."

On his right bicep, he has a fist holding a diamond, an ankh (the Egyptian symbol for eternal life), and the acronym "TWISM" (The World Is Mine) and words "Against the Law." ("Because I'm so good it should be against the law," O'Neal says with a wink). Some of his tattoos are for family, too. Above the diamond on his bicep, he has the name "Taahairh" (his daughter). He's also got wrist tattoos of his kids' names that he calls "bracelets of love."

His right forearm bears the words "Lil' Warrior," a tattoo that stems from O'Neal's first and middle names (Shaquille Rashaun), which mean "Little Warrior" in Arabic. Below the words is a tattoo of a huge muscle man. "This is me right here when I take my clothes off," O'Neal says smiling, pointing to the buff tattoo.

While Richardson, Barnes, Stoudemire, and O'Neal sport more ink than the rest of the team, two other Suns have smaller, less noticeable tattoos. Reserve forward Louis Amundson, the former NBA D-League Rookie of the Year, has one tat. It's on the right side of his chest and has the words "R.I.P. 34" surrounded by flames. He got the tattoo to commemorate the life of his best friend, Billy Feeney, a teammate at Monarch High School in Louisville, Colorado, and a player for the University of New Mexico Lobos. Feeney hanged himself in August 2003. Amundson doubts he'll get another tattoo.

Guard Leandro Barbosa has three small tattoos. On the inside of his right wrist, he has a star. On the back of his neck, he has the words "Love, sacrifice, and union." On his lower left rib, he has his mother's name tattooed in Asian characters. Barbosa's mother, Dona, died in November after fighting pneumonia for more than a month in a Brazilian hospital.

Suns legend Dan Majerle, now an assistant coach for the team, has a single "secret" tattoo. On his right ankle, he's got a tiny lightning bolt, which he says he got because his nickname is "Thunder" but also because, "It was for a girl. I was young and dumb." When Majerle pulled off his shoe to show the tattoo after a recent practice, Suns coach Terry Porter couldn't resist ribbing him. "Don't show that tattoo, Dan," Porter said. "Show the little flower tattoo you have!" (Porter was kidding, we hope).

Reasons vary as to why the remaining Suns have no ink on their bodies. Steve Nash, who wasn't named an All-Star this year for the first time since rejoining the Suns in 2004, says tattoos look cool but he has "never felt the urge to get one." (If he were to get one, he says, he'd get a tribal pattern tattoo on a half-sleeve, from shoulder to elbow.) Forward Grant Hill didn't want any regrets down the line. "Ten, 15 years from now, I don't want to look back and go, 'What was I thinking?'" Hill says.

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea