The Man Who Inks All Stars

When I met the tattoo artist, he was poring over fantastical designs. Reggie Sullivan’s table is a paper mill, one that spouts drawings of Eddy Curry-as-samurai. Though intentionally unobtrusive, Sullivan stands out among the All Star revelers who flood LA Live’s J.W. Marriott–otherwise known as “the player’s hotel.” This lobby is a confluence of young ballers, beautiful women, men in suits that peacocks would gawk-squawk at.

Reggie’s in a Knicks jersey, glasses, headphones, a crisp Yankee cap. He smiles bashfully when asked about inking guys like KG and Amar’e. A female friend interjects on Reggie’s behalf, chiding him with: “You should tell people about this! Let em’ know about it….he’s shy.” This woman is the unofficial PR rep for an introverted artist. She mentions some of the NBA players who carry Sullivan’s designs, exhorts Reggie to spill more names.

(“Eddy Curry…Nate Robinson…the Juggernaut over Wilson Chandler’s whole back”)

Many satellites orbit the players during All Star Weekend. They edge next to stars, so as to siphon some of their status, so as to believe that circling Durant means moving in his circle. Hangers-ons want to be hangers-ins, whether by charisma, obsequiousness, of sheer force of ubiquity. William Gates of Hoop Dreams once spoke of the people who might forget about him, and these are those. Excursions to the player’s hotel kept wrapping me into conversations with resplendent suits, bragging about how Star X was a part of their fundraiser, how Star Y was a “really good friend.” Reggie’s closer to athletes than this set, certainly closer than I’ll ever be:

“You get to know somebody over the four, five hours,” he calmly intones. Reggie tells me that some players come in, stating exactly what they want. Amar’e in particular is pretty particular. Others, like Chandler, let the artist guide process. But all these guys trust him to a certain extent, sometimes to the tune of 4,000 dollars and a sore back.

I’m reminded of how Andre 3000 once described himself as “The fella in class who used to draw.” We never quite know where our passions will lead. Reggie was a shy guy with a pen, and now he’s in a glamorous social strata. There are avenues to cool that loud gregariousness can’t buy.

The tattoo artist says: “You going to the TNT party later tonight?”

(Ya, if you sneak me in)

Twitter: @SherwoodStrauss

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