CHICAGO - When LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers last July, the experts predicted a really bad upcoming season.
They were all wrong.
Abandoned by the King and without the rehabbing Kevin Love for all but four games this season, the Cavs have won just two of their last 20 games and 10 of 51 overall, a feat of mediocrity that has pushed them down to last place in the entire NBA.
So it was no surprise that after stunning the Bulls 104-101 in a Sunday matinee, the Cavs locker was swallowed by chaos. Love led the cheering with repeated roars of joy while hugs, high fives, and fists bumps were shared with the same vigor you see in high school reunions.
When reporters were allowed locker room entry for the media availability session, I immediately looked for a visual on Jordan Clarkson, and as soon as I had an eyeball on him I positioned myself within two feet.
Barefoot and wearing a pair of black compression pants, Jordan was naked from the waist up. Which was perfect, because I had specific instructions to do a story on the explosion of tattoos on what had otherwise been his empty billboard of skin.
Jordan's tattoos are massive and too beautifully crafted to escape the attraction.
On his left shoulder is the image of his younger brother, Bear, draped in a miniature Superman costume. His dad Mike, fondly labeled as "Head Honcho" occupies a small stretch of space on his left biceps. Images of two women are on each of his delts as well.
After scoring 18 points, grabbing seven rebounds and issuing six assists in 21 minutes and 55 seconds of action, reporters were eager to talk about his impact on the game so Jordan quickly put on his white Nike gear and black beanie.
He saw me looming at his 2 o'clock and said, "What's up guy, everything good?" I mumbled something pleasant but didn't join the fray because the scrum was made up mostly of reporters on a deadline. My questions could wait.
Three minutes later I was alone with Jordan.
"I've always liked the art," Jordan said when I pried about the sudden ink spill.
Back in November, while talking to Joe Vardon of The Athletic, Jordan elaborated on this saying, "No subject in school (Wagner High in San Antonio) was my favorite. So yeah, I'd say art class because I didn't want to go to any other class."
So this splurge of injecting pigments and dyes deep unto his skin is anything but a random, mindless thought. He just wasn't in a rush. He was careful in finding a good artist who can realize what he conceptualizes on a piece of paper.
Per The Athletic, Jonathan Valena aka JonBoy, who has worked on Justin Bieber among other celebrity clients, is one of Clarkson's artists. Jimmy Hayden, owner of Focus Tattoo in Cleveland where Kyrie Irving got his eagle, has also done needle work for Jordan. So did Raphael Valdez of of Los Angeles, the dude who had previously tattooed SWaggy P and singer Chris Brown.
I asked Jordan if the woman on his right shoulder is his Filipina mother Annette. "No, my mom's here," tapping his left shoulder. "That's my stepmom," pointing to his right shoulder.
Getting high-quality tats ain't cheap and it has cost over $20,000 so far for Jordan, says Paul Tamayo of CavsNation. But he swears he's not done.
"I still got a lot of body parts I gotta fill," Clarkson told me.
While the tattoos fond fodder for the bored and restless, it's actually Jordan's game that have the NBA talking.
Through 50 games, he is Cleveland's leading scorer at 16.5 per. He also hauls 3.3 rebounds and dishes 2.3 assists a contest. His 3-point shooting is down to 33.2 percent from last season's 40.7 percent clip but his two-point field goal accuracy has jumped to a high 52.1 percent while remaining solid at the free throw line at 84.8 percent.
While Derrick Rose is the sexy name for Sixth Man of the Year, Jordan also has the numbers to legitimately contest for the award.
Now in the third leg of a four-year $50 million contract Jordan, assuming he keeps this pace, is in line for a massive payday once he becomes a free agent in July 2020.
To paraphrase David Letterman, it was so cold in Chicago that lawyers were forced to put their hands in their owns pockets. But Jordan was smiling and feeling sunny inside.
His team won, a rare but welcome occasion. His stats were fat. His tats were beaming. And, by most accounts, all is well in the family.
What else can a hooper ask for?