Frantz: NBA stars look more like inmates than pro athletes

I believe it was Robert De Niro, playing ex-convict Max Cady in 1991’s “Cape Fear,” glaring at the wife of Cady’s lawyer-victim as she looked disgustedly at his ink-stained body, who said, “I understand, I’m not your type … too many tattoos. Thing is, there isn’t much to do in prison except desecrate your flesh.”

Makes sense. And it certainly explains why such a high percentage of the prison population is covered with enough ink to re-coat the Golden Gate Bridge. What I can’t figure out, however, is why such a large percentage of the NBA population is so bound and determined to emulate the prison population.

For the record, I love the NBA. Well, let’s just say I love basketball. And for most of my four-plus decades on this Earth, I have enjoyed watching basketball played at its highest levels by some of the finest athletes in the world. I grew up watching with awe and admiration as guys like Dr. J, George Gervin, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and, of course, Michael Jordan used the hardwood as their own personal canvas on which to create basketball artistry.

Today’s NBA player uses his skin.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Dennis Rodman was ridiculed as some sort of a freak for parading around NBA arenas covered in more graffiti than a brick wall in East Oakland. The head-to-toe body art coupled with the dye-blonde hair and the body piercings made Rodman stand out like Rosie O’Donnell at a beauty pageant.

Today, Rodman would go virtually unnoticed. And I can’t stand it.

Maybe it’s just age catching up with me, bringing with it a diminishing ability to appreciate the fashion statements of a younger generation.

This much I know: I’m getting increasingly disgusted by having to read or decode the colorful pictures, quotations, maps, scriptures and landscapes that fill my television screen every time one of these guys steps to the free-throw line.

Oh, and before anyone tries to bring the race card into this debate, let me be clear: The single worst offender in the entire league is the Denver Nuggets’ Chris Andersen, who makes Rodman in his prime look downright Amish. Andersen looks like something my 6-year-old son would create if I gave him three cups of coffee and a 96-count box of Crayolas. Ridiculous.

Now I’m not calling for a ban on tattoos or self-expression in professional sports. I don’t think a person’s employer should have a right to tell him how to look, short of reasonable dress codes which are enforced in nearly all facets of decent society.

Rather, I’m hoping that future NBA stars will voluntarily choose to present themselves with class and respect for themselves, just as their NBA ancestors did, because it’s getting too difficult to tell an NBA arena from a state prison recreation yard.

Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at bfrantz@sfexaminer.com.

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