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

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Another local shop worth visiting is Blue Dragon Tattoo in Glendale. The company was founded by tattoo artist Dick Goldman in 1991. Goldman's been doing tats since 1979, and his work has been featured in tattoo publications like Skin Art, Tattoo Revue, Skin & Ink, and Flash. Blue Dragon also prides itself on its sterile environment, saying it performs monthly spore tests on its equipment and requires artists to complete the Bloodborne Pathogen Certification Course. (Although the health risks of getting tattooed — such as hepatitis C and HIV — have diminished in the past decade, it's always a good idea to ask about a tattoo shop's sterilization techniques before getting inked.) Blue Dragon's motto: "Cheap tattoos are not good, and good tattoos are not cheap."

(Quality tattoos can be expensive — renowned artists such as Mister Cartoon charge anywhere from $500 to $1,000 an hour, and there's often a three- to six-month waiting list. A good local tattoo shop will charge anywhere from $50 to several hundred dollars, depending on the size and colors of tattoos.)

Another good bet is Immortal Art tattoos in Scotts­dale, recommended particularly if bright colors are desired. Immortal Art tattooist Mike Fite has 10 years of experience and will draw original sketches for people who have an idea that they can't get down on paper.

Jason Richardson, who says he wants to get a back piece but isn't sure what he wants yet, should hit up Fite for some ideas. All JRich knows is he's not taking his next tattoo lightly: "I don't get tattooed unless I'm 100 percent sure."

Not surprisingly, Charles Barkley has a strong opinion about tattoos on basketball players. Despite reports that the former Suns forward offered to tattoo a civilian officer's name on his ass if she could get him out of his DUI on New Year's Eve, Barkley has no tattoos. He told David Shields, author of Body Politic: The Great American Sports Machine, "White folks are not going to come to see a bunch of guys with tattoos, with cornrows. I'm sorry, but anyone who thinks different, they're stupid."

But Barkley's wrong. The 2007-08 NBA season set a record for highest average attendance and highest total attendance, beating the attendance records of the three previous seasons. The number of NBA players with tattoos has doubled in the past 10 years as game attendance has spiraled — so tatted players haven't stifled fans' enthusiasm.

All the same, NBA Commissioner Stern still plans to seek that limit on the number of tattoos players can have in 2011. The proposal came on the heels of an NBA dress code enacted in 2005. Concerned with the "hip-hop image" he saw overtaking the NBA, Stern now requires players to dress in business-casual attire when traveling to and from games. Players haven't been thrilled with Stern's telling them what to wear (Allen Iverson said, "The dress code is not who I am and doesn't allow me to express myself"), and they like the tattoo cap even less.

"We were talking the other day about how many players, percentage-wise, have tattoos," Lou Amundson says. "I think it's like 60 or 70 percent."

So some players might have to be cut because of their tats, he says, possibly even star players.

As for accepting offers from corporations to tattoo logos on themselves, the players (with the exception of Stephon Marbury, who has the Starbury shoe logo on his head) aren't exactly getting behind that, either. Amundson says, "It's kind of like selling out."

Tattoo-less Suns reserve Alando Tucker restates his "only thugs have tattoos" mantra, adding that "Starbury's a company thug."

Besides, many tattooed players (at least on the Suns) consider their tats personal and meaningful. They consider any kind of corporate control — including an NBA tattoo cap — contrary to the culture of today's game.

Matt Barnes, who says his tattoos "express what inspires me," points out, "If you look around the NBA, almost everybody has some kind of work.

"Tattoos are our generation."

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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