Etchings on royalty
C-Webb and J-Will find significant ink at Wild Bill’s
Wild Bill Hill says a tattoo can change your life and he ought to know. He’s tattooed from head to toe, all 6-foot-6, 300 pounds of him. A genuine illustrated man. He could go out in public wearing a sock (over you know what) and still look like he had clothes on.
As proprietor of Wild Bill’s Tattoo and Body Piercing in downtown Roseville, Wild Bill, his longtime significant other, Kim Forrest, and their colleague, Raleigh Annis, have tattooed tens of thousands of people from all over the globe. When it comes to tattooing, they’re strictly major league. Now, thanks to another major league, their work is getting big-time recognition.
Their artistry is all over the bone-white skin of Sacramento Kings starting point guard Jason Williams. It can be seen prominently in Nike’s “Freestyle” TV commercial, in which J-Will and other NBA stars shake-and-bake to a rap score comprised of dribbling basketballs, shoe squeaks and other on-court sounds.
Look closely at the inside of Chris Webber’s left wrist, and you’ll see the Kings power forward has put his “F-A-I-T-H” in Wild Bill’s Tattoo and Body Piercing as well.
It’s a sign of the times. During the past two decades, tattoos have gone from gutter to glitter, from mark-of-the-beast to mainstream fashion statement. With the NBA playoffs now under way and the Sacramento Kings threatening to make it past the opening round, the art of Wild Bill’s Tattoo and Body Piercing is receiving exposure before a national television audience.
It’s a clean-and-sober tattoo parlor, with neat black-and-white checkered linoleum, padded barber chairs and antique collectibles (robots, motorcycle miniatures and other toys) placed here and there. Wild Bill, Kim and Raleigh don’t drink alcohol or do drugs, and they won’t tattoo people who come in inebriated. A tattoo can change your life, Wild Bill says, and it’s their responsibility to ensure that the change is for the better. After all, it’s going to be on there for, well, life. If you’re thinking about getting a light bulb tattooed on your forehead, forget about it.
Of course, celebrity clients such as J-Will and C-Webb present a special case. Question: What does a 6-foot-10-inch multimillionaire league MVP candidate get for a tattoo? Answer: Anything he wants to, no matter how crazy it is. But Chris isn’t the crazy one. That would be Jason. It says so on the underside of his right forearm: “I-N-S-A-N-E.” He’s no tattoo virgin, Jason Williams. He was all marked-up long before he came to Sacramento. An eyeball above his right nipple. A panther on his right shoulder. A dragon on his other shoulder. I-N-S-A-N-E. When J-Will’s advance man called Wild Bill’s last year on Mother’s Day, the flamboyant point guard had just one thing in mind: escalating the tattoo madness.
It’s about a 25-minute drive from Los Lagos, the gated luxury community south of Roseville where both Jason and Chris live, to Wild Bill’s. Jason, his girlfriend and three West Virginia homies showed up in the basketball star’s white Lincoln Navigator, complete with tinted windows and five TV sets. It didn’t take long for Jason to choose a design. It was fairly sedate, by his standards: a basketball hovering over an outstretched hand that Kim tattooed on his left biceps. His three buddies also got tattoos, and his girlfriend had her nose pierced. Jason paid for it all, leaving a hefty tip and a good first impression.
Kim and Wild Bill have been around celebrities before. Tattooed musician Brian Setzer and his crew have visited the shop. Social Distortion singer/guitarist Mike Ness still owes Wild Bill $150 for work completed. Within the tattoo community, Wild Bill is something of a celebrity himself, and in a past life in Southern California, Kim used to work for a chiropractor where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a regular client. For them, Jason was just another customer with skin in need of ink. He was far from the player who is currently being chastised as a hot-headed, pot-smoking showoff by the league, sports writers and fans of opposing teams. The Jason that Kim and Bill met was super-polite and down-to-earth. Sure, the four-carat diamond stud in his ear and the diamond-encrusted basketball pendant around his neck were a little gaudy, but what else can a former poor boy do?
A couple of weeks later, on J-Will’s recommendation, C-Webb showed up at Wild Bill’s. It was a Sunday evening, and he asked Raleigh to tattoo “F-A-I-T-H” on the underside of his left wrist. It wasn’t Chris’ first tattoo—he has a small bulldog on his chest. The power forward was so soft-spoken, Raleigh, who’s tattooed maybe 500 people since then, can barely remember him. But he does remember asking Chris to double-check the spelling. If you’re going to screw up, you don’t want it to be on one of the more well-known figures in the community, Raleigh recalls thinking.
A couple of weeks after that, on Father’s Day of last year, Jason paid another visit. Keep in mind, J-Will’s life was changing about this time. It didn’t have anything to do with the tattoos, not directly. He was sick of being a celebrity. He told Wild Bill that someone had actually asked him for an autograph while he was taking a leak at a urinal. He didn’t mind signing a few autographs for some of Wild Bill’s friends who had heard that the Kings player was at the shop, but he was tired of fans following him everywhere he went.
His game was going through a metamorphosis as well. He was seeing the future at the end of last season—a year in which he launched a phenomenal 505 three-point shots—when coach Rick Adelman started benching him during the fourth quarter in favor of backup point guard Tony Delk. After giving Jason free reign during his 1998 rookie year, Adelman began inserting something into the freewheeling point guard’s game that had heretofore been missing: discipline. Jason had fought discipline most of his life, and it wasn’t going to be an easy fit. Perhaps that’s why he found the design of a wolf he’d seen on his first visit to Wild Bill’s so appealing.
The wolf, with gnashing incisors, appears to be ripping its way out of the skin of the person upon whom it is tattooed. Once again, Kim did the honors, applying needle and ink to J-Will’s forearm in the photo-realistic style that is Wild Bill’s trademark. The wolf looks amazingly lifelike. Is it supposed to be Jason, escaping from the NBA’s straightjacket conformity, from the suffocating burden of being a role model? Jason didn’t say. All he told Kim was that he liked the design.
If the wolf was supposed to sublimate Jason Williams’ inner demons, it didn’t work all that well. During the summer, he tested positive for marijuana and was suspended for the first five games of this season. The suspension was a wake-up call, and Jason heard it loud and clear. Sort of. He made his third trip to Wild Bill’s on Columbus Day, before the season started. This time he didn’t bother calling before he came in. He told Wild Bill and Kim he wanted “W-H-I-T-E-B-O-Y” tattooed on his fingers.
For Wild Bill, that was pretty much the same thing as someone asking him to tattoo a light bulb on their forehead. A bad idea. He doesn’t like doing tattoos on the face or the hands, it puts people off, destroys tattooing’s hard-earned respectability. He wouldn’t even consider doing it for an ordinary person. But J-Will was no ordinary person. No boss was going to ask him, “What’s that tattooed on your fingers, boy?” After Wild Bill convinced Jason to use Old English-style lettering so the tattoo wouldn’t be as legible, Kim proceeded. Jason grimaced throughout the painful procedure, just like he does when he gets a bad call from a referee.
He’s been getting a lot of those lately. Bad calls. Some can be attributed to the fact that Jason now at least feigns at playing defense. But the calls that have been getting all the publicity have been the fines Jason has received for verbally lashing out at fans who have been heckling him about the marijuana, and, yes, the tattoos.
Have the tattoos changed Jason Williams’ life for the better? That’s a tough call. Since he got them, the Kings have played far above expectations, marching into the playoffs after finishing second in the Pacific Division. However, Jason’s results have been more mixed. His assist-to-turnover ratio has dropped, which is good, but so have most of his other numbers, which is bad. Back-up point guard Bobby Jackson has relegated him to the bench during tense fourth quarters. Then there’s all those altercations with fans, the last one costing him $25,000.
Still, J-Will’s the starter, he has the hottest selling jersey in the NBA, and the Nike “Freestyle” commercial is now playing as a 3-minute video on MTV. There’s even a new Nike commercial that might appear during the playoffs. The commercial pokes fun at the idea that “basketball is a black man’s game.” In it, Jason is digitally altered to look like he’s African-American. All of his tattoos are scrubbed off, then the camera closes in on his hands. In flesh colors showing through the brown skin appear the letters, “W-H-I-T-E-B-O-Y.”
The point being that it doesn’t matter what color you are—black, white or tattooed from head-to-toe—what you still have to do is show up and play basketball. No doubt, tattoos have changed Jason Williams’ life. But whether it’s for better or worse mostly depends on how he performs in the playoffs.