I had an interesting conversation with center Robert Swift after today’s practice that I would love to continue at some point very soon and turn into a more in-depth profile for The Oklahoman.
My goal was to find out if Robert feels misunderstood, obviously because of his appearance, defined by his long red hair, his numerous tattoos and his jet-black painted fingernails. Swift certainly doesn’t appear to be your average Joe, not even in the tattoo-infested NBA world.
But my curiosity was piqued when a fan seated behind my press row seat at a recent game inside the Ford Center heckled Swift at every occasion because of his image, asking him “what’s wrong with you,” “why do you paint your fingernails” and essentially calling him a freak. This after teammate after teammate told me what a great guy Swift is and how he’s one of the nicest, most respectful and polite guys around.
Turns out, Swift had a lot to say when I asked if he felt misunderstood by fans.
“Not even just with fans, just with people in general,” Swift said. ”People that don’t even watch basketball see tattoos and they don’t like it. Why do people dye their hair? Why do people get earrings? It’s just what people like. It’s a very broad generalization, but a lot of people don’t like or are afraid of things that they don’t understand or things that they want to do but never had the courage to do. So they automatically get mad at somebody that has the courage to do it.”
I proceeded to ask Swift the how, when and why he molded his current image, how he went from the baby-faced, clean-cut teenager above to the uninhibited, tatted-up player he is today.
Swift told me that, with his mother by his side, he attempted to get his first tattoo at around 16 years old. Swift recalled his mother willing to sign any paperwork necessary to allow her underage son to get his ink.
“They said, “No, you’ve got to wait until you’re 18,’” Swift remembered. ”So it’s one of those things I always wanted it.”
Swift sat down for his first tat shortly after being drafted by the Sonics in 2004.
“I just ended up just walking one day, literally going for a walk because I lived in downtown Seattle my rookie year, and I walked in front of a tattoo shop and went in,” Swift recalled.
After 154 hours of tattoo work — the intertwined designs make it impossible to count each tat separately – Swift said his image soon became a talking point, for better or for worse.
“I got the same thing in Seattle,” Swift said. ”People hated it, didn’t like it. It was the same thing as it is here. People either hated it or loved it.”
The more I talked to Swift the more interesting he became. Turns out, he’s into MMA fighting and uses the sport to train in the off-season. He said the brutal sport isn’t what led to him entering training camp this year with a broken right hand, however, and said he’s never been injured while practicing MMA.
“The more I got into it the more I got into every fight,” Swift said. ”I like rolling on the ground. I like to submission wrestle, which is weird for as long as my arms and legs are.
“I like watching the fights and watching how technical they are. It’s amazing how one little slip or one little thing and you’re caught and you’re done.”
To be continued……