The NBA is requiring Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball to conceal a tattoo on the left side of his neck they believe violates the league rules, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. The tattoo simply reads "LF," the initials of Ball's middle name, LeFrance, but is also the name of Ball's clothing line.
The NBA's little known tattoo rule
The NBA has a rule forbidding players from exposing commercial logos on their bodies, which Ball's camp argues is only sporadically enforced. There have been numerous instances of players displaying commercial brand tattoos, from the Jordan logo to Michelin, but the NBA argues that since those players did not have endorsements with those brands, it was not in violation of the rule.
According to NBA spokesman Tim Frank:
"Under the [collective bargaining agreement], players are prohibited from displaying commercial logos or corporate insignia on their body or in their hair during games. We try to enforce the rule reasonably, in accordance with its purpose, and taking into account players's efforts to express themselves in a non-commercial manner. But LaMelo Ball's neck tattoo is in obvious violation of the rule and, accordingly, he's required to cover it."
The NBA and Ball are continuing to communicate to remedy the issue in the short and long term. Ball's argument centers on the fact that the "LF' tattoo represents his middle name and uncle. There is also the issue that the tattoo pre-dates his clothing line, and much of the band's merchandise has LeFrancé, not LF, displayed prominently. In this case, it appears his tattoo inspired the branding of his clothing line, and the tattoo's sole purpose wasn't an attempt to drum up business.
LaMelo and the NBA's clash could be the a start of a trend
This is not the first time the Ball family has had this run-in with the NBA. In 2018, the league required Lonzo Ball, LaMelo's older brother and member of the Chicago Bulls, to cover up a "Big Baller Brand" tattoo. In both instances, the brands were companies started and owned by the players and are a far cry from corporate insignia.
With more athletes taking ownership of their branding, clashes like the Ball family's over tattoos and commercial logos could become more commonplace. Tattoos are permanent and highly personal, and the NBA's rule appears to be designed to prevent transactional tattoos from becoming commonplace. While it's unclear where this battle will go, the final verdict could have long-lasting effects.