Tarnished Twenty- The FindLaw Sports Law Blog

NBA May Fine or Force JR Smith to Cover Up New Supreme Tattoo

Like the NFL, the NBA has pretty strict rules when it comes to player uniforms. Shorts can't be too baggy, shirts must stay tucked in, no tights allowed (compression sleeves are OK), and if you're going to wear a headband, it must be a league-issued headband and not inside out or upside down. And NBA players, due to the nature of those uniforms, have some of the most prominently displayed tattoos in sports.

So it's no surprise that, at some point, all those written regulations and all that ink would come into conflict. And it's probably no shock that JR Smith is at the center of that conflict. According to Smith, the league has warned him to cover up a brand new tattoo sporting the Supreme streetwear logo, lest he be fined. Can they really do that?

Supreme Being

"So I was informed today that I would be fined every game if I don't cover up my 'SUPREME TATTOO' on my legs during games!!" Smith wrote on Instagram. "These people in the league office are something else!" (That last part was also punctuated by a middle finger emoji.) You can see the tattoo on his calf for yourself, here.

Sports Illustrated's Michal McCann says the league is well within its rights to fine Smith, citing Article XXXVII of the collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the National Basketball Players' Association, which reads:

Other than as may be incorporated into his Uniform and the manufacturer's identification incorporated into his Sneakers, a player may not, during any NBA game, display any commercial, promotional, or charitable name, mark, logo or other identification, including but not limited to on his body, in his hair, or otherwise.

Clearly the language is intended to protect the league's corporate sponsors, including Nike, who signed an eight-year, one billion-dollar contract to be the official sponsor of NBA uniforms. Smith seems to acknowledge as much in his Instagram post, complaining the league doesn't "make people cover up Jordan logos [or] NIKE checks." While Smith sees it as a personal attack, the NBA sees it as not promoting a sponsor's competition. Both Supreme and Nike make streetwear and skateboarding apparel.

Ink Fast

It's not the first time NBA player tattoos have cause legal controversy. For years a tattoo artist and his studio have been fighting the makers of the basketball video game franchise "NBA 2K" in court, claiming it failed to pay him licensing fees for featuring player tattoos he designed in the game.

Smith will likely need to choose between displaying his new tattoo and diminishing his bank account come tip off.

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