Chris Paul is rare. Not just because of his amazing ability to change direction in a split second or his position of being one of the best in assists and assists-to-turnovers ratio in the NBA. Dwyane Wade is in the same boat. And not due to his talent of effortlessly splitting two defenders on a pick-and-roll prior to attacking the rim without fear of contact. The physically and athletically gifted Dwight Howard rounds out this trio of established young stars, who are a majority in the league due to their African American heritage (83 percent of NBA players are black).

Yet, these three are minorities when compared to many of their counterparts since neither of them dons any viewable tattoos. Along with a handful of other players, Paul, Wade and Howard would almost be a better fit in the 80′s and 90′s. Their styles of play do not carry a retro tag, but their unmarked skin does in a league where nearly 80 percent of its players display body art, which is totally out of control like gas prices.Tattoos covering just a bicep or shoulder are definitely a thing of the past. That ink has spread down the entire arm, over the whole chest, abdomen and back, legs and even the neck. Getting “tatted up” has become the new hobby in the league where the players’ faces and bodies are highly recognizable.

Since hobbies turn into fads or trends, the younger generation follows suit and now there are high school and college players with more art than a gallery. But the stars – LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire – who young studs often emulate also grabbed someone’s coat tail.

Dennis Rodman, the Chicago Bulls’ version, would not be a bad start, but he was too outlandish to be hip. Plus, Michael Jordan was the man and most were consumed by his shoes, cool earrings and fadeaway. However, Jordan’s reign was coming to a close and someone would be pushed to the front and center as the “Next.”

Enter Allen Iverson who possessed one of the biggest hearts and while being equipped with one of the smallest frames. Aside from his remarkable speed, quickness, toughness and ability to score in volumes, AI walked and talked with an unheard swagger, an attitude that represented the streets and hip-hop without reciting one verse.

He continued to play like he was at the park and dress like he was on the block and it caught on. The initial reactions were: Ball like Iverson. Crossover like Iverson. Give it your all like Iverson. Not long after, AI corn rowed his hair, added a tattoo regularly, turned his hat to the side and flossed long jewelry to compliment his baggy clothes.

Then, “Be AI” took place which is still a major contributor in how athletes present themselves. There has been a noticeable decline in the cornrow hairstyle, but an outrageous surge in tattoo appointments. Iverson, 33, had at least two dozen tattoos the last time it was officially checked.

Young guns like J.R. Smith (22 years old), Rashad McCants (23), Delonte West (24) and Nate Robinson (24) seem to be in competition with veterans – Larry Hughes (29), DeShawn Stevenson (27) and Stephen Jackson (30) for the most tatted award. One-and-done freshman, Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo would already be qualified for the All-Rookie Tattoo team if such existed; further solidifying the trickle-down effect of the lifestyle of hip-hop artists to established players and onto the next group of potential stars.

On the other hand, there still remains a short list of guys – young and old – who have ink-free skin like Paul, Wade and Howard. Veterans Michael Redd, Tayshaun Prince, Vince Carter and Chris Bosh all seem content to remain free of tattoos. Brandon Roy, Al Horford, Kevin Durant and Danny Granger have not spent any of their “new” money at the parlor either.

In the 70′s, being “fly” was the thing to do. Since the NBA is a business, brothers dressed like businessman, wearing the best suits and earrings money could buy in the 80′s and most of the 90′s. Until David Stern instituted a dress code, the style was hip-hop – hats, tee shirts and excessive jewelry – of late, but tats and headbands dominate.

Whatever is in store for the next decade of this new millennium is yet to be seen, but it’s guaranteed to be interesting.