Iman Shumpert goes hard in the paint and in the tattoo chair. The NBA star is a warrior poet who communicates through his style, raps and ink.
Words by Rocky Rakovic Photographs by Sasha Samsonova
Michael Jordan was one of the first iconic bald heads in the NBA, Allen Iverson made cornrows cool to the masses and Dennis Rodman, well, he dyed his hair more colours than there are in the deluxe 64 box of Crayola crayons. The Association’s current coiffure de célèbre stands atop Cleveland Cavaliers’ 6’5” (unclear if measured through or over his hair) shooting guard Iman Shumpert. Not since Gerald from Hey Arnold has the high-top been worn by such a cool cat. Even from the browline down, Shumpert is a sartorial star who wears ostentatious yet slick threads and is covered in ink. Appearance aside, he stands out on the court throwing daggers from mid-range and playing lockdown defence with unreal footwork. After a mid-season trade from the Knicks last year he pushed the Cavs to make the NBA Finals and after his wrist heals he is going to stand in every opponent’s way to make sure he is back in the championship again. If there is such thing as a shutdown corner in the NBA, it’s Shumpert.
INKED: Are you more known for your hair, clothes or your tattoos?
Iman Shumpert: Ain’t nothing beating my hair. If I wear a hat, I could sneak around, but I ain’t going nowhere covering it up with a hood.
Do you look at tattoos as style?
Iman Shumpert: Now I do. A lot of the positioning of my tattoos are so they look good when I’m wearing my jersey.
Do you think the NBA is more tattooed because of the jersey?
Iman Shumpert: Without a doubt. Tattoos show up in the NBA. A lot of football players have tattoos, but because they’re padded and the cameras are so far back, you’re never able to read them. Our camera angles are so close up and the lighting is right on us and our tattoos.
Do you guys clown on each other’s tattoos on the court?
Iman Shumpert: If somebody gets a bad one and they need a cover-up.
Do you have any cover-ups?
Iman Shumpert: Yeah, I actually had a tattoo on the inside of my right arm that represented some high school friends. We had our own little team, I had a tattoo of that to represent that but sometimes it got misconstrued as gang affiliated. I made sure that I got it covered up before my daughter got here. I put a Batman symbol over it.
Iman Shumpert: Batman is the only superhero that can be respected in my eyes. He’s the only one that was a real person and just helped people behind the scenes. I feel like all basketball players do exceptional things financially for our families, friends and community. We help behind the scenes. We don’t expect to get a trophy for it, we just do it because we care – it’s where our heart is. That’s the whole concept of Batman, and I like that anybody could be Batman.
True, how about your Johnny Bravo tattoo?
Iman Shumpert: Johnny Bravo taught me to have that confidence and believe in myself. Johnny Bravo got beat up the whole episode, but every time he saw something that he wanted he went after it. I took from the show that whatever I want [success as an athlete, rapper and father], I’m going to go get it, and if I get hit in the face for it, I should be able to take that because I want it that bad.
Do you have a favourite tattoo at the moment?
Iman Shumpert: Yeah actually, I got the Green Line train system in Chicago. It’s the five stops that I would usually get off on, on the West Side. It’s on the inside of my arm, so if I pull my wingspan out you can see it on my left arm.
Not in green ink though, right?
Iman Shumpert: Yeah, it’s green. You’re trying to say I’m black as hell.
[also laughs] Yep. Red shows up really well on dark skin we haven’t seen too much green ink. Why do you get tattooed?
Iman Shumpert: Growing up I rapped on the shy, but I never thought that I would let people (hear it). So I got tattooed to tell my story and get it out creatively. I also tatted things on me so that I could remind myself of my struggle and the things that I’ve accomplished. I get tatted so I can look at my story every day.