The NBA is requiring Charlotte Hornets All-Star guard LaMelo Ball to cover a tattoo below his left ear that the league insists violates rules against exposing commercial logos on players’ bodies — a policy that sources close to Ball contend has been infrequently enforced.
Ball has the initials “LF” tattooed on his body, short for LaFrance — his middle name, and now, his clothing brand.
The NBA and Ball have had conversations over the past several weeks regarding the tattoo, and Ball began covering it up prior to Tuesday’s loss to Miami to avoid league fines, sources told ESPN. He continued to cover it up for Friday night’s in-season tournament game against Milwaukee.
The sides are expected to keep discussing short- and long-term resolutions to the issue.
In a statement to ESPN, NBA spokesman Tim Frank said: “Per 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’ 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.”
Ball has had a similar tattoo on his left hand, although it was far less conspicuous than the new impression under his left ear that caught the league’s attention in the preseason.
Ball has informed the NBA that the “LF” represents his own middle name, and that of a close family member, his uncle, sources said. Ball had used the LF initials long before it became a brand.
Ball’s reps have made the case to the NBA that several past players have had what would be considered corporate logos on their bodies — including for Jordan Brand, Michelin and Warner Brothers. Those players, though, did not have endorsement partnerships with those companies, the NBA countered.
The league did require Ball’s older brother Lonzo to cover a “Big Baller Brand” tattoo in 2018.
Ball was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft, the 2021 NBA Rookie of the Year and made his first All-Star team in 2022. He signed a five-year extension in the offseason that could be worth as much as $260 million. He’s averaging 22.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 8.6 assists for the Hornets this season.