John Wall Gets A “Business Tattoo”
He was the kid who burst on the scene out of nowhere after his sophomore year in high school (well, after this “third” year, as he had to repeat his sophomore year). Wall was also the kid previously known for attitude problems—defiance against coaches, arrested for breaking-and-entering an abandoned house, and issues with male authority figures in general.
But as his game caught the attention of those such as Kentucky head coach John Calipari and future agent Dan Fegan, Wall matured. He realized, as the Andre Agassi commercial for Canon used to go, “image is everything.” Wall, via handlers and brand-awareness coaching, became more image conscious. He thought more about his words, and he thought more about his look.
From a June 23, 2010 New York Times article the day before Wall was drafted:
As Wall completed a workout in Los Angeles, reporters noticed that he had no tattoos. Wall said he wanted one as a teenager, but Pulley [Wall's mother] told him no when he asked to have a portrait of his late father, John Carroll Wall, inked on his chest.
“When you’re 16, you still need your parent’s permission,” Wall said. “I could have went to a little rickety-dink shop outside and got it, but nah. I’m still going to have the same memory in my head, whether I have it on my chest or my body or not. It’s still going to be in my head.”
From a Washington Post article on Wall three days prior:
Wall has declined to get tattoos because of concerns over his image for marketing reasons, but he is considering getting one on his chest, considering it strongly enough that he has a specific design in mind. It would be of his dad’s face, with clouds surrounding, and the words “Forever Living On.”
Former Wizards coach Flip Saunders was also sold on the marketing push. Saunders, from late-May 2010:
“From all indications, he has great character. I know there was an article in the paper, and he talked about how he wears his jeans up at his waist and doesn’t wear them down low like a lot of guys because he feels he has an image. Kids are looking up to him. He doesn’t have any tattoos. He cut his braids off when he was 14 years old. Never thought about growing them back.”
About a year later in the summer of 2011, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant caught attention because of his “business tattoos,” i.e., tats that wouldn’t show with a basketball jersey on.
But things change, and guys get more comfortable in their own skin as they make a name for themselves. Now, Durant puts his “business tattoos” out on Instagram, and apparent image degradation leads some to believe that a word on said tattoo(s) is misspelled (when it is not), which becomes a story in itself, which Durant has to refute … via Instagram.
Then there’s John Wall. In terms of “image,” this is his biggest summer ever. He’s trying to get a max contract extension from the Wizards along with attempting to increase his personal brand recognition via the adidas “Quick Ain’t Fair” marketing campaign. But none of that has stopped Wall from getting a new tattoo—a “business tat”—and putting it out on Instagram.
Now, I won’t attempt to speculate what Wall’s new stomach tattoo is about (his deceased father, his “5 Deep” crew, or both); nor will I try to put it through spell-check.
The real speculation is if any of this matters … to marketers, ultimately. As long as Abe Lincoln, a backwards Pittsburgh Pirates “P” and faux cracks don’t start appearing on Wall’s skin above the shoulders, I imagine not. Especially if Wall continues to do things like drop 47 points on the Memphis Grizzlies on the night he eschewed his old, cruddy Reeboks and made a debut and some shiny-new adidas basketball shoes.
No one will ever be certain who cares more: the marketer, the marketed, or the marketee. But one thing is for sure, image is in winning and not so much the ink. Otherwise, Wall, currently visiting Las Vegas, sure seems to be having fun so far this summer.