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

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Reserve center-forward Robin Lopez says, "I don't have anything against it. It's a unique way for people to express themselves. Being an artist myself, I can appreciate that." (Lopez says he draws in pastels.) Reserve Alando Tucker comments, "I don't have a single tattoo. Only thugs have tattoos." (After growing up amid crime and gang violence in Illinois, Tucker made a pact with his older brother Antonio to never smoke, drink, or get tattooed).

While Shaq ran every one of his tattoos past his parents, the tattoo-less Suns cited parental disapproval as the most common reason for not getting inked. Reserve forward Jared Dudley says his mom forbade him from getting a tat, and back-up guard Goran Dragic laughs at the idea: "My father would kill me."

Coach Porter comes across as a tough guy but says the same thing about why he's sans ink: "My dad's 82 years old, and if I got a tattoo, he'd still kill me."

Some tattoo artists are almost as famous as the people they tattoo.

Amar'e Stoudemire had all his work done by Los Angeles artist Mark Machado, a.k.a. Mister Cartoon. Machado started his career as a graffiti artist in L.A., then learned from a friend how to tattoo. His first celebrity clients were members of the hip-hop group Cypress Hill, but it wasn't until he tattooed Eminem that his business really exploded. Machado's other clients now include Justin Timberlake, Travis Barker from Blink-182, Method Man, and Beyoncé Knowles. Stoudemire says he's "pretty much done" with tattoos, but if he were to get another one, it would come from Mister Cartoon.

All of Matt Barnes' tats were created by high school friend Ryan Hill, now with American Graffiti studio in Sacramento, where Barnes grew up. Barnes brought Hill more NBA customers — he's also done work on Golden State Warriors point guard Monta Ellis, Atlanta Hawks point guard Mike Bibby, and Golden State Warriors small forward Stephen Jackson. Hill says he lets Barnes pay for his tattoos in NBA gear most of the time. "I charge money from every one of my other customers, so when it comes to Matt, I'd rather get a jersey or some game shorts," Hill says. "There's nothing better than a pair of [L.A. Clippers center] Chris Kaman's smoothies [shorts] after a hard day's work."

Hill plans to give Barnes another tattoo, in honor of his late mother, whenever Barnes is ready (probably during the off-season, as many players won't get ink during the season because of the chances of damaging a fresh tattoo on the court).

Shaq plans to get another tattoo, a back piece that reads "I Am Legend." He's not sure where he'll get that done. Most of O'Neal's tattoos were inked by Rob-G, a Kissimmee, Florida artist who also did work for Lil Jon, Ice Cube, Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, Eve, Lil Kim, DMX, and LL Cool J. Rob-G was one of the first tattooists to have a large hip-hop clientele. Once sports stars saw Rob-G's work on hip-hop stars, they went to him for their ink. In addition to O'Neal, Rob-G also tattooed Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson, New York Knicks forward Al Harrington, L.A. Clippers guard Ricky Davis, former Miami Heat point guard Jason Williams, and Miami Heat forward Shawn Marion.

Rob-G was found dead at his home in Orlando on January 26, an apparent suicide. O'Neal and the tattoo artist were good friends; the Suns center often shot hoops with Rob-G's son.

Jason Richardson also mentioned getting a back piece, here in Phoenix. Since he and O'Neal are both relatively new to the Valley, we suggest they check out some PHX tattooists for their next piece (heck, maybe Nash could even pay a visit to one of them and get that half-sleeve).

One of the best tattoo shops in the Phoenix area is Club Tattoo in Tempe. Founded by Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington and his friend Sean Dowdell in 1995, the tattoo shop has grown to include four locations around town and will open a Las Vegas shop in March. In addition to touting one of the most sterile environments (Club Tattoo prides itself in exceeding OSHA standards for sterilized equipment), its artists list many celebrities on their résumés. Musicians inked at Club Tattoo include former Korn guitarist Brian "Head" Welch, members of Wu-Tang Clan and Kottonmouth Kings, Miranda Lambert, and, of course, Bennington. Athletes have gotten inked there, too, including former New York Giants tackle Russell Davis, former Pittsburgh Pirate Jay Jones, former Kansas City Royals outfielder Abraham Nuñez, New England Patriots tackle Anthony Clement, and former Suns star Marion, who went to the Miami Heat in the Shaq trade.

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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