Why Would the NBA Fine JR Smith for New Supreme Tattoo?


  • Courtesy Emanuel Wallace
  • J.R. Smith
AdAge wrote last year that after the naming rights deals for NBA arenas, special seating sections, mid-game entertainment and almost every panel of free space inside arenas, NBA jerseys looked like they might be "the final remnant of non-commercialized purity" in the league.

But now that jerseys are themselves generating revenue for teams, via small breast patches, players' bodies now appear to be the absolute final remnant, (assuming, that is, that the companies players might choose to promote on their skin or in their hair aren't currently under contract with the league.)

The NBA has warned Cavaliers' guard JR Smith that he will be subject to per-game fines if he doesn't cover up a new tattoo, the word "Supreme" on the back of his right calf, which doubles as the logo for a streetwear company of the same name.

Smith was incensed when he got word that he would be fined. He flashed middle-finger emojis in an Instagram post and a follow-up comment directed at the league. 

"These people in the league office are something else," Smith wrote. "I swear I'm the only person they do shit like this to. So you mean to tell me I have to cover up my tattoo for what? You don't make people cover up Jordan logos, NIKE checks or anything else but because it's me it's a problem all of a sudden!!! Shit whack."

Recently tatted Cavs guard Jordan Clarkson commented, "smh."

Sports Illustrated's legal analyst Michael McCann wrote yesterday that there are good reasons for the fines, unrelated to the suppression of players' free expression. Smith was correct to note that players (like Wizards' Center Marcin Gortat) aren't required to cover up their Jumpman or Nike logos. That's because of the league's contractual relationship with Nike.

"If the NBA fails to protect sponsors’ rights and interests," McCann wrote, "the league could be required to return money on existing sponsorship deals. The league would also lose bargaining leverage in future negotiations given that sponsors would have developed concerns that the league is unable to adequately protect sponsored brands."

That's a problem not just for the league, but for players as well, McCann said. About half of all revenue from sponsorship deals (for apparel and arena signage) go into a league-wide pot that's shared among players. The more money in the pot, the higher the NBA salary cap. The higher the salary cap, the higher the pay for players.

"While some NBA players may be sympathetic to Smith on a philosophical level, they are collectively better off if the league protects players’ financial interests," he wrote. 

JR Smith's tattoos are legend in Cleveland. After going shirtless for days in the aftermath of the 2016 NBA Championship, local t-shirt company Fresh Brewed Tees started selling t-shirts replicating Smith's tatted chest. The company reportedly sold more than 1,000 of them in the first 24 hours. Smith told Complex that he was not making any money off the Supreme tattoo — he just wanted a new tattoo. 

Per Cavs' head coach Tyronn Lue, Smith will not be among the Cavs starters when they take on the Boston Celtics' in the pre-season opener Tuesday. That lineup: George Hill, Rodney Hood, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson. 

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