It is no secret that J.R. Smith enjoys tattoos. So, when he was seen with a new calf tattoo, no one was surprised, except maybe the NBA. Smith’s new tattoo says, “Supreme” in a specific font that is specific to the company “Supreme”.
Supreme, for those who are not aware, is an expensive street-wear brand that has recently become a social symbol.
So what? Well, the NBA does not allow players to display logos for non-sponsoring companies on the court. This would be free advertising, which would mean everyone, including the players, would lose out on money. Smith’s new tattoo is in direct violation of the NBA rule that the NBAPA has agreed to in the last collective bargaining agreement.
This is not the first time this rule has been violated. In 2013, Iman Shumpert was spotted with a new haircut, featuring Adidas logo shaved into his head. At the time Adidas was the official sponsor of the NBA, however, the NBA still did not allow logos on a players person. Shumpert got a new haircut without the logo and made a public apology to the NBA for the actions. A sports economist estimated Adidas lost a potential $1.2 million in brand exposure.
But today, the NBA does not seem to be following the rule so blindly. Current player, Marcin Gortat, has a tattoo of the “Jumpman” which is the Michael Jordan brand logo, owned by Nike. Gortat was in an argument with his own sponsor, Reebok, who had asked him to cover the tattoo, but the NBA did not threaten a fine for the “Jumpman” logo being visible on the court. Gortat is still active in the league today.
If the NBA wants to enforce the blanket policy that is in place they should ensure that no player can break that rule, even if the tattoo is supporting the league’s sponsor, as they did before in the Shumpert case.
The NBA has no choice but to enforce their policy to protect the value of sponsorships with the league. The players should also be happy the league is protecting the value as they are rewarded a portion of the revenue.
The NBA has directed Smith to cover the tattoo or face a fine each game. However, Supreme has received a lot of free brand attention due to Smith bringing light to the situation.
The rule is clear, but what is not clear is if the NBA will do more than fine Smith, especially if Supreme decides to cover those fines.