Getting inked up is common in the NBA. In fact, during the 2021-2022 season, 55% of the players in the league sported a visible tattoo. Tattoos are one way of expression. Furthermore, they may also symbolize a meaningful moment in a player’s life. Whether or not there is a meaning behind a tattoo, totally depends on the player. However, the undeniable fact is tattoos certainly change how a player looks. For this piece, let’s take a look at what famous tattooed NBA players looked like when they had none.

10. Dennis Rodman

If there is a player that started the trend, it was Dennis Rodman. As the resident bad boy in the NBA, it was no surprise that Rodman was more inked up than the rest of the league. In fact, he was warned by the late David Stern.

However, during his early Pistons days, Rodman barely had any tattoos to show. Seeing him without the tattoos felt like a missing puzzle piece to The Worm’s defensive presence.

9. Allen Iverson

If there was another player that had a notorious reputation, it was Allen Iverson. Although Iverson had a lot of off-court drama, his skills on the court made up for that which allowed him to star in the NBA at one point. Eventually, it won’t long before Iverson got himself inked up including a tattoo that said “Only the Strong Survive” which referenced his rough upbringing.

While we saw Iverson as one of the notable tattooed NBA players, he barely had any during his basketball days at Bethel High School. During this time, The Answer dominated the high school basketball landscape and used the sport in order to make ends meet.

8. Monta Ellis

Before Stephen Curry, it was Monta Ellis who ran the show in the Bay Area. Fans would remember Ellis as a lethal scorer that covered his body up with tattoos. Those tattoos gave a nod to his priorities such as his love for basketball and family.

However, Ellis entered the league without any visible tattoos and it was only after his injury where he sat in the tattoo chair. Before the tattoos, Ellis had a breakout season where he averaged 20.2 points per game.

7. J.R. Smith

J.R. Smith has carved out a reputation of being good but boneheaded at the same time. He is incredibly athletic but also has the tendency to make the most head-scratching plays. Nevertheless, it is also his body ink that gets the attention of NBA fans.

Although he was pretty much tatted up since high school, Smith actually showed no visible ink during his days with Lakewood High School. During this time, he was the school’s leading scorer and best three-point shooter before transferring to St. Benedict’s.

6. Chris Andersen

Known as The Birdman, Andersen is known for his rim protection, mohawk, and tattoos. While he wasn’t a top prospect, teams paid him for his hustle which allowed him to carve out a lengthy NBA career.

Given that he’s one of the most popular tattooed NBA players, Andersen’s days with the Blinn Buccaneers of the National Junior College Athletic Association saw him without any visible ink. But as early as then, Andersen was already dominating in terms of blocked shots with 4.7 a game.

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5. Robert Swift

We all know the guy who spends all his VC on tattoos only happens in NBA 2K. Unfortunately, one can argue that isn’t true because of Robert Swift. Swift was a first-round pick by the Seattle Supersonics in 2004.

Coming into the league, Swift had no visible tattoos that carried high expectations. Unfortunately, he failed to perform well as a first-rounder in the NBA as injuries, hairdos, and tattoos were much more talked about than his game.

4. Carmelo Anthony

We all know Melo as one of the best scorers in the game. Although he has yet to win a championship, Melo has become a decorated player in the NBA. The same can be said about his tattoos, which reference his family, origins, and roots.

But before the inked-up Melo we know today, he showed no ink during his high school days at Oak Hill. Still a scrawny kid back then, Melo showed glimpses of his scoring prowess that even made headlines when he rivaled LeBron James in the high school basketball scene.

3. Lonzo Ball

Back when his father was making headlines, Ball was just a guard trying to live up to the expectations and play ball. During this time, Ball didn’t really show any ink from his days in UCLA all the way to his rookie season after the Lakers drafted him in 2017.

However, that changed slowly as the years passed. But after being traded to the Pelicans, Ball shocked fans on social media for going full blast in terms of body ink. He’s now a proud member of the tattooed NBA players group.

2. Jordan Clarkson

Like Ball, Clarkson was also drafted by the Lakers. He also didn’t have any visible ink when he entered the league in 2014. During that time, he was still a prospect with a lot to prove.

But after a dismal NBA Finals appearance in 2018, that seemed to flip a switch. Since then, Clarkson started to get some tattoos. As his tattoos increased, Clarkson’s game also improved. He eventually became 6th Man of the Year in 2021.

1. Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard is one of the most talented guards today. He can score in multiple ways and shines the brightest during Dame Time. While Lillard has shined on the basketball court, his tattoos also get the same attention off the court. With at least 15 tattoos, each one holds significance to the Blazers star.
But before becoming the NBA star he is now, Lillard looked different during his high school days at Oakland. He was still a young but talented player who was trying to make a name for himself. Lillard averaged 22.4 points and 5.3 assists per game as a senior.