LeBron James is one of the worlds most gifted and influential people. On his back, etched in black ink, is a constant reminder to himself of how seriously he must take that responsibility.
Chosen1 reads the tattoo.
Among the dozens of tattoos that adorn James body, its the one that has always received the most attention. When James burst onto the scene as a high school basketball wunderkind, Sports Illustrated put James on its cover along with the words The Chosen One. He later put the message across his upper back.
For James, that controversial and misunderstood tattoo is about more than basketball. Its a message to himself: Things that I abide by every day.
At a basic level, the sleeveless uniforms of basketball players provide the perfect vehicle for self-expression through tattoos, and several of the Heats players, including James, take full advantage of their work attire to display personal messages of love and motivation. As players like Chris Andersen, who calls himself the Birdman and asks everyone around him to do the same, fly up and down the court during the NBA playoffs, tattoos will paint a canvas of individuality and creative expression on a worldwide stage.
We get to express ourselves without saying too much, James said.
But the most powerful messages, sometimes, are unspoken.
Take for instance Game 1 of the Heats first-round playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks. When Andersen, following a powerful dunk, raised his arms like a bird to display his feathered wings, an entire arena of Heat fans understood the call. Suddenly, all of AmericanAirlines Arena was flapping in unison. And with that, the Heats 2013 playoff run took flight.
Chris personality fans love him, said Heat President Pat Riley. I think some of the people who work in our organization, I think their children love [Andersen] even better, because they want to go and get a body painter and paint themselves.
Andersen impersonators have been spotted during games, including one child who had his neck painted to resemble Andersens colorful Free Bird tattoo. Andersen later joked that the boys artwork was better than his own.
I didnt think those were fake, Andersen said. I thought those were real. I need to go talk to his artist. They were pretty clean.
About half of Andersens body is covered in ink. (And, for years, people have been dressing up as Birdman for Halloween.) The majority of Andersens work, including the neck tattoo, was done in Denver while he played for the Nuggets.
As a general rule, the vast majority of living creatures on this earth have an intense aversion to sharp objects such as needles sticking into their necks. Not so Andersen, whose neck tattoo took three all-day sessions.
What do you do while someones tattooing your neck all day long?
Well, when youre getting tattooed on your throat you really cant read nothing, Andersen said. You just let them do it and think about basketball.
And, of course, remain very, very still.
Ask Andersen how many tattoos he has on his body and hell tell you, with a straight face, One, its all connected.
A murder of crows (yes, thats the collective noun for a group of them) fly along both sides of his legs. The words Honky-Tonk make an arch above his stomach. A pit bull stands sentry on one pectoral muscle and a bulldog dunking a basketball is flying through the air on the opposite side of his chest. Eagles, with talons at the ready, flank his shoulders. A thick gold chain is tattooed around his neck with the golden numbers 303 the area code for Denver affixed like a pendant around his sternum. His knuckles, from right to left, read SCRE on one hand, WYOU on the other.