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Sources: NBA to allow once-banned LaMelo tattoo

LaMelo Ball flushes a 3-pointer (0:18)

LaMelo Ball buries an early 3-pointer for the Hornets. (0:18)

  • Adrian Wojnarowski, ESPNJan 12, 2024, 09:19 PM ET

As Charlotte Hornets All-Star guard LaMelo Ball returns from a six-week absence, the NBA will allow him to keep uncovered a tattoo below his left ear that previously had been considered a violation of league rules against commercial logos, sources told ESPN on Friday.

Ball can now play with the “LF” initials — short for LaFrance, his middle name and a clothing line — distinguishable to the public. Ball had covered the tattoo with a bandage for several games before a Nov. 26 ankle sprain sidelined him until his return Friday night in San Antonio, where he emerged without the bandage in a 135-99 loss that saw him score a game-high 28 points.

The NBA, Ball, his representation at ROC Nation Sports and the players’ association had several weeks of conversations early in the season about the tattoo, and Ball began covering it up prior to a Nov. 14 game to avoid league fines, sources told ESPN.

In a statement to ESPN in mid-November, 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.”

Nevertheless, the NBA reconsidered that position in recent weeks, allowing Ball to return Friday without the threat of fines for failing to cover the tattoo, sources said. 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 told the NBA that the LF represents his middle name and that of a close family member, his uncle, sources said. Ball had used the initials long before they had become 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 Jordan Brand, Michelin and Warner Bros. Those players, though, did not have endorsement partnerships with those companies, the NBA countered.

The Hornets, beset with injuries, have lost 17 of 20 games without Ball on the floor this season. Ball, 22, had surgery on the same, right ankle last season, part of what limited him to 36 games. In 16 games this season, Ball has averaged a career-high 24.9 points with 5.3 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 1.6 steals.


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