Maybe you don’t remember the old Canon Andre Agassi commercials. But I’m sure you remember the tagline. Image is everything.
Sure, it was just a clever way to tie in high-quality pictures with a tennis star who had quite a rebellious, care-free image, but that idea lives on. Especially with high-profile athletes. Marketing, branding, visibility, likability — all that crap is essentially what leads to more money. The more people like you, the more people trust you. So when you endorse a product, whether it be a brand or even yourself, appearance and image, are what matter.
And nobody in the NBA has a more squeaky clean image than Kevin Durant. He’s a superstar, but one that’s humble, soft-spoken, team-oriented, committed, loyal and basically 50 other words describing how good a dude he is. He caught a lot of attention when he sheepishly announced his grand five-year max extension with the Thunder while LeBron was prepping for a one-hour special, but it goes back a lot further than that. He would run the scoreboard in college at Texas during intramural games. He plays video games with neighborhood kids. He signs every autograph. He introduces himself like you wouldn’t know who he was. “Hi, I’m Kevin.” I mean, we’re talking about a global basketball superstar that has two straight scoring titles, was the second-leading vote-getter in the West last season and one of the most visible and brightest stars in the league.
So in terms of image, Kevin Durant has about as good a one as you can get. I think you’d have a better chance of finding the Holy Grail than finding someone with a bad word about KD. You know a guy a solid when other fanbases say things like, “Yeah, I can’t hate KD. He’s just too awesome.”
Which is why you might be surprised to know that picture up top is actually of Durant. A lot of people were stunned to see the clean-cut, humble dude from conservative Oklahoma City so inked up. As a result, it started a minor frenzy. Virtually every major blog has picked up the photo of Durant standing in China with his shirt off and subsequently shocked the masses by what was revealed: Kevin Durant has tattoos. Not just one either. Lots of them.
I understand why people got to talking after I tweeted the picture last week. It’s a bit jarring. It’s sort of like opening up a box of cereal and finding the complete third season of Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper. Definitely not something you’d be expecting.
But what caught even more attention isn’t just the fact that he has them. It’s where he has them. Not on his arms. Not on his neck. Not on his wrist, leg or shoulder. KD only has tattoos on his chest. Almost in a comical square pattern. Almost like he has them there so that they’ll stay covered up when he’s wearing, you know, a basketball jersey.
So some have wondered: Is this just KD maintaining his image?
Potentially. Probably. And if so, you kind of have to respect that self-awareness of his image and brand. He’s acknowledged that he intentionally went with tattoos in a concealed area because he didn’t want them flashed in public. Because that’s kind of who he is. Not ever flashy to the public. Not ever trying to show off. Instead, toned-down and humble.
I understand that with tattoos, along comes a certain perception of the person getting them. Especially when they come in excess as in Durant’s case. It’s a pathetic stereotype, but there’s a certain thinking that if a person has a bunch of tattoos, that must say something about who they are, something about their character. You didn’t see a bunch of ink all over Martin Luther King Jr. or the Dali Lama. Obviously that’s silly, but that type of idea is unavoidable.
Which is why some have figured that Durant is trying to have the best of both worlds with his tattoos. Keep up that sharp-dressed-man look on the court with clean arms, but have his ink hidden underneath where it would only be seen if for some reason the NBA went shirts versus skins.
I get that theory. It makes sense. But it shouldn’t matter. Durant got the tattoos because he wanted them. He had them put on his chest because that’s where he wanted them. And if wants one on his shoulder or arm, he’ll get it. Durant is always, always himself. The image people have of him is great, but he’s not trying to live up to that. He’s not changing who he is just to try and be the person we all think he is or should be. He’s simply just going to be him. If some ink on his skin changes the way someone looks at him as a brand, a role model or a player, I think that says a lot more about the person than it does about Durant.
The entire Thunder team has sort of been branded as this choir boy bunch of kids that say yes ma’am and no sir while having no piercings or nasty body art. Maybe that’s because it really fits the conservative nature of Oklahoma and people ate up the fact that the players adhered more to weird community social standards than to the perceived “thug life” of the NBA. With Durant being the face of the franchise, everything fell in step behind him.
But if he has ink, what does that say about our perfect little Thunder? Can we not root for the team now? Should fans not love them as much? Do we tell kids in school not to be like them now? I mean, really, how stupid is it that all of this is because of some ink on a guy’s skin?
There is a line and even David Stern acknowledged it when he instituted the dress code a few years ago. There’s a certain level of professionalism that has to be upheld for the general public to be able to be to connect with players. It’s a touchy area, but understandable. I suppose you could apply those same principles to Durant and his ink, but what does it matter?
A lot of stars have tattoos all over their bodies. Kobe and LeBron have clearly visible ink. Some players don’t like Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. Most would’ve had Durant in that category too. But does now seeing him inked really change anything? And more importantly, should it?
Ink is ink, a player is a player and most importantly, a person is a person. All three aren’t necessarily related.