Seimone Augustus wears her heart on her sleeve

Jul 13, 2012 11:21 AM ET | By Leslie GoldmanSpecial to espnW
Seimone AugustusESPN.com Illustration

You'll find plenty of fascinating tidbits on Seimone Augustus' website, such as how she was christened The Next Michael Jordan in a Sports Illustrated cover story at just 14 years old, that she ranks first in LSU history in career free throw percentage and second in career field goals made and that she has an Olympic gold medal. You'll read about her work to establish a memorial scholarship in honor of fallen high school basketball phenom Shannon Veal and her hobby of restoring classic cars, including her badass purple '68 Impala hardtop.

One thing you won't see on the 28-year-old Minnesota Lynx guard's website? Her tattoos. Eight or nine of them, she's lost track, and frankly, with preparing for the 2012 London Olympics, slogging through 20-plus hours a week of practice and serving as co-grand marshal of the Twin Cities Pride Parade with fiancee LaTaya Varner, she doesn't have time to count -- or, apparently, update her website.

Tattoos and the NBA go together like peanut butter and jelly, where ink-free ballers are the exception. But Google "WNBA players and tattoos" and just a handful of decorated women pop up, including Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker ("To whom much is given, much is expected" on her wrist) and New York Liberty's Cappie Pondexter (the WNBA logo emblazoned with the words "The Future" on her shoulder).

Still, their quotes and symbols pale in comparison to Augustus' massive arm sleeve, a tranquil freestyle landscape of water, flowers and her beloved mother's moniker. She may have transformed herself into a 6-foot tall canvas, but each of her tats holds special meaning -- enough so that she is not worried she'll look back in 20 years with inky remorse. (We can't expect the same of the Jazz's Andrei Kirilenko and his lats-spanning "World of Warcraft" homage or Allen Iverson's "Money Bagz"-covered hand.)

We chatted with the Lynx's leading scorer about toughening up, dealing with the pain and why tattoos might help you stay in shape.

espnW: Which was your first tattoo?

Seimone AugustusDavid Sherman/NBAE via Getty ImagesSeimone Augustus has been working on the flower sleeve tattoo for three years.

Seimone Augustus: The two on my ankles. They're my grandmothers' names, Sarah and Mimi. They're kind of like ninja writing, oriental-themed, with Chinese symbols that mean love and unity. I got them my freshman year of college.

espnW: Why your grandmothers?

SA: I had just moved out of my mom's house, and the first thing I wanted to do was get a tattoo. My grandmothers meant a lot to me, so they were first on my list. The wanted me to be a teacher and to play with Barbie dolls, but once I got into basketball, they were some of the most supportive [people around me]. Mimi was a nurse, and she traveled with my high school team. Sarah was a cook at my high school and supplied food for my young teams -- red beans and rice, fried chicken and cornbread. Gumbo was her specialty; that's what everyone talked about.

espnW: Did they hurt?

SA: Very much. It's worse than a piercing -- like somebody taking a needle and scraping it along your bones.

espnW: That didn't stop you from getting your entire arm done. Tell us about your sleeve.

SA: It goes from my shoulder to my wrist on my right arm. I've been working on it for three years. We travel so much, it's hard to make it to the shop. It's got water, flowers and my mom's name, Kimberly, winding through it. It represents peace and harmony. I just let the artist freestyle. I wanted something I wouldn't see someone else walking around with.

My mom is my best friend. We talk about everything together. My dad is the one who trained me, but she was always there to put the Band-Aid on my bruises and bumps and make it all better. She kept the peace when it was a battlefield between me and my dad; he's so intense, he'd talk smack to me, tell me I wasn't going hard enough. It would be 100 degrees in southern Louisiana, and he'd turn on the heat just to push me over the top. This was an opportunity to show her how her how much I love her. She was shocked but excited. I just walked around the house with a muscle T-shirt on, and she asked to take a look. She's old school and was more scared about the pain and wanted to make sure the needles were clean, that I'm not going to get any diseases. She's kind of warming up to it now.

espnW: Speaking of which, your dad has a tattoo too, right?

SA: Yeah, he has a tattoo with the Olympic rings and torch, my number [5], and it says "Proud Father." I thought it was a joke at first -- one of the ones you press on with a little water -- but he rolled up his pant leg and the skin was peeling off, so I knew it was real. I was shocked. When I got my first, he said, "Only get them in less visible places."

espnW: How about your other tattoos?

SA: I've got my initials on my Achilles' heel in black ink. Two African symbols behind my ears that mean strength and perseverance and leadership. My teammates used to call me Baby Tough in college. They said, "You're so small"; I was 160 pounds soaking wet when I got to college. They said, "You gotta be tough." Once the team felt I was tough enough, I graduated and started being called Toughness. Once I'd proven myself, I got those tattoos. And I have two on the inside of my arms, under my armpits -- "No struggle" and "No progress." Like, no pain, no gain.

espnW: A tattoo on your Achilles' heel? That couldn't have felt good.

SA: That was the most painful. Pain must soothe me. Maybe at that time the pain was helping me overcome something. Relationship issues, maybe? I was angry about something, but I can't remember what it was. Going through that kind of pain, it must have been to help me deal with a relationship.

espnW: Do you think there's a double standard when it comes to men versus women and body art?

SA: People look at it as being a little less womanly, but it depends on what you have. People have accepted my flower sleeve; I always get compliments. When I first started getting them, people told me to hide them. Now they respect it. It's becoming more common, like getting your ears pierced. I think it's what you have versus actually having them. If I had a gun on my arm, they'd think it was different, like a gang sign. This is mother's name with flowers. They show you're so passionate about that person or thing, you're taking it to the next level.

espnW: Do you think strangers ever judge you for them?

SA: People who don't know you, they tend to move to the other side of the elevator. They can make a negative assumption. Other people, I'll get on same elevator and they'll say "Cool, let me see," and we have a good conversation about our tattoos. I've made friends that way.

espnW: Ever worry you'll regret all that ink?

SA: You have to be smart about what you put on. If I'd put an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend's name on my arm, I'd regret it a few years later. You need to think about it, do research, ask yourself, "If I wake up tomorrow with this, will I still be happy with it?" You want tattoos to be a good representation of you. They actually [motivate you] to stay in shape. Tattoos tend to stretch or expand when you put on weight, and you want them to look great until you're out of here.

Leslie Goldman

Contributor, espnW.com
Leslie Goldman is a die-hard workout junkie who covers health and fitness for many popular women's magazines and is the author of "Locker Room Diaries: The Naked Truth About Women, Body Image and Re-imagining the 'Perfect' Body." Full disclosure: Her high school athletic experience was limited to sophomore year Color Guard.

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