Rashad McCants played possessed. In high school, he ripped through the competition, earning state MVP honors in New Hampshire while taking his team to the state championship. College was no different. At Air Jordan’s alma mater, University of North Carolina, McCants scorched opposing defenses with his silky smooth skills, earning All-Conference and second team All-American status as a sophomore while leading his storied conference in scoring; he went on to help the Tar Heels cut down the nets as the 2005 NCAAnational champions.
The 6’4” guard also became one of the most controversial college basketball players in history. The press latched on to McCant’s lone wolf personality and his inflammatory statements about playing at Chapel Hill. The media labeled him “bipolar” and “borderline psychotic.” He memorialized the adversity in ink, tattooing “Born to Be Hated” on one arm and “Dying to Be Loved” on the other.
When McCants declared for the 2005 NBAdraft, he might as well have declared himself eligible for purgatory. The Minnesota Timberwolves selected McCants with the fourteenth pick in the NBAdraft, and the rookie guard hit a three-year run of road bumps and bad luck. Multiple injuries kept the eager young player sidelined for much of his first two years. Doctors declared him healthy just as Timberwolves management traded star player Kevin Garnett, turning the team into a total rebuilding project. None of it keeps McCants up at night. He’s more concerned about taking this chance to prove himself to the NBAand the rest of the world.
INKED: Tell us about your first tattoo experience.
MCCANTS: My first tattoo was “Born to Be Hated, Dying to Be Loved.” I got it when I was 21 and in college. I was going through a lot of controversy. People said I had a bad reputation and a bad attitude. I just wanted something that kind of said where I was at.
During college, members of the media referred to you as “borderline psychotic” and “bipolar.” What is it about your personality that brought these comments?
There’s nothing about my personality. The people who don’t know me assume things about me. I’m a private person and a lot of times people take that the wrong way. When I step on the court, I’m there to get the job done and win. Some people are all smiles, but I take my job seriously as a professional, and some people don’t understand that.
You once said of playing for the Tar Heels: “You’re not allowed to say certain things, but once you get out of jail, you’re free. [I’m] in my sentence, and I’m doing my time.” You later clarified the statement, saying your comments were directed at how much your days were planned out by others. Has being an NBA player been a more- or less-regimented lifestyle than it was in college?
It’s a big difference. You show up and do your job every day in practice and then you have a ton of free time to do whatever you want. You have no free time in college because when you’re not at practice you are either in class or study hall, and you go to sleep when you get home. Now I practice from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and then I have the whole day to myself.
Your high school team won the state championship, and your college team won the NCAA championship. How did you handle the change from a winning tradition to playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves, one of the NBA’s struggling teams?
It’s tough, but it’s something everybody has to go through. You have to fail to succeed. You have to start at the bottom to get to the top.
The Target Center hasn’t been filled for many of your games this year. Is it tough to keep your focus and your pride when you’re playing in front of such small crowds?
Not at all. You play for the love of the game, and sometimes fans don’t make it to the game. You can’t judge your own performance by the fans or the crowd. You got to keep playing hard and hopefully turn this thing around.
You’ve struggled with injuries most of your NBA career, but now you’re finally healthy. Do you feel like you’ve still got a lot to prove to your peers and the fans?
Most definitely. Since I didn’t play much my first year and I was hurt much of last year, some people already consider me a bust. For the rest of my years in the NBA I have a lot to prove. No matter what you do it’s never going to be enough, and the league is always demanding more from you.
How did you deal with the injuries on a mental level? It must be hard to miss that many games.
It’s really tough. You basically rehab every day 24/7, and you don’t get to travel with the team. But I was fortunate when I got to talk to players like Grant Hill and Jason Kidd about their injuries and how they came back. When I talked to players like that, who have gone through with it, I got a lot of confidence about coming back.
What were the emotions that ran through you when you heard that Kevin Garnett was traded from the Timberwolves to the Boston Celtics?
It was kind of crazy. We had been talking about it for two years because of all the rumors every year. He loved Minnesota and loved everything about it and didn’t really want to leave, but when the decision is made you just have to move on. He’s the type of professional that will do his best no matter where he is.
Your sister plays college basketball and your cousins played in the NFL and MLB. Where do these athletic genes come from?
I have no idea. I think the biggest part is that we’re passionate about our craft and we work hard at what we love to do.
What is the hardest thing about NBA life?
The mental grind of staying focused and staying consistent. When the days get long and games come back to back, your mental focus can go away, and it’s hard. In the NBA you go from city to city. Everyone wants to go out have a ball, but at the same time you have to rest your body. It can be tough to distinguish between what you should be doing and what you want to be doing sometimes.
NBA groupies are notorious for finding their way to the hotels and bars that players frequent. How do you deal with it?
I don’t know about groupies showing up at the hotel, but they know who you are when you go out. They attach themselves to you. A lot of them are pretty good and know what they are doing. They want to be associated with the players. They never come up to you. A lot of times they try to dance in your vision to get your attention, or they will holler at your boy or have one of their friends go up to your boys and introduce them. They get pretty creative.
What’s the craziest thing one of these girls has ever done?
I’ve seen a lot. The craziest? This one followed me around the club everywhere I went and never said a word. She just kept staring the whole night.
Do you get tattoos done on the road or do you have a specific shop you stick with?
I don’t have one place. I kind of get it done everywhere. Anywhere that’s open and will take me.
Which tattoo is your favorite?
I have flames on my shoulders; underneath it says “Always Ready, Never Scared.” Those are probably my favorite.
Do you talk with other players about their tattoos?
I talk to a lot of guys about their tattoos, like [Denver Nuggets forward] Carmelo Anthony and [Phoenix Sun center] Amare Stoudemire. They’ve got some good ones. There are a lot of other players with great ink work.
Who has the worst ink in basketball?
That’s tough. There are a lot of bad ones, but I can’t think of one that I can say is the worst.
What is the craziest tattoo experience you’ve heard about from another NBA player?
One of my homeboys, [Minnesota Timberwolves forward] Justin Reed, got a tattoo on his hand. That night, he was wrestling in his apartment with one of his boys and he scarred up his whole hand and the tattoo ended up smearing.
Do you think tattoos have exploded in popularity in the NBA over the last few years?
It’s definitely gotten big. There are a lot of players who feel like people don’t understand them or they feel that they have something to say.