Irvine’s Spider-Man: Moore Than Just Basketball

Alex Yee | Staff Photographer

In uniform, he’s hard to miss, yet he’s often overlooked. Respectful, grateful, mild-mannered but, when motivated, dangerous. Thousands turn up for the suspenseful scene, anticipating his arrival and hoping that he’ll save the day. As he flies through the air with webbing across his chest, one might wonder, “Who is he?” He’s Spider-Man – but not Peter Parker and far from a superhero. Darren Moore is an agile specimen of a basketball player who’s covered in ink.

It wasn’t a spider bite, like the one that Peter Parker contracted in the 2001 version of the Marvel Comics superhero, that crowned Moore as Irvine’s installation of Spider-Man, but the stinging sensation that is familiar to all who have received a tattoo. The spider tattoo, which is his signature, was not his first time “getting inked.” Moore had quite a few tattoos that line his biceps, triceps, forearms, shoulders and back. Across his shoulder blades reads “Motivated by Jesus, Dedicated to the Game” surrounding a basketball crowned with thorns, which symbolizes his faith in his savior and his love for basketball.

The tattoo that initialized his Spider-Man transformation cost $600 alone, which he saved up for during the summer of 2008 while working at basketball camps. It features a thick black spider that’s centered on his pectorals.

“When I first saw that ‘Spidey’ tattoo, it was crazy,” said teammate Patrick Rembert. “But if you know Darren, you know he’s bold enough to get something like that.”

From there, he forked out additional funds to encircle the arachnid with unique webbing that’s lightly shaded, which makes the spider stand out. Above each hip rests two of Spider-Man’s villains: Carnage and Venom.

“No comment,” he smiled when asked how much money the approximate “55 tattoos?” cost (he has lost count) that line his body.

Moore says that his infatuation with tattoos began when he saw an April 23, 2001 edition of Sports Illustrated, which features a notoriously tatted-up basketball star, Allen Iverson. On the cover, a shirtless Iverson has sleeves of ink down his arms, a cross around his neck and a badass expression on his face. Iverson displayed heart on the court, often driving to the basket before being leveled by defenders and bouncing back up, a sight familiar to Anteater fans who have witnessed Spider-Man’s comparable aggressiveness and determination for the past two-plus seasons.

The difference between Peter Parker and Darren Moore is black and white, with a few shades of gray. Moore, a 6-foot-3 African-American with buzzed black hair, an athletic build and a confident demeanor, seems to have no trouble with the ladies. When he posts a shirtless picture on Facebook featuring his muscular frame covered in countless creative designs (all of which hold personal meaning), members of the opposite sex pour in comments and press the “like” button at a rapid pace.

“I didn’t really intend for the tattoos to be seen, it was a personal thing. But my coaches told me I had to show it off,” Moore said.

After being flooded with attention while his shirtless photos bounced from Urban Ink Magazine to the front page of Yahoo Sports to the OC Register and the Daily Pilot, it became complicated for Moore to hide the unique tattoos that have covered his chest and stomach for more than two years.

“What’s weird is being stopped in public and asked to take my shirt off to take a picture,” Moore said, amused.

The nickname that ties Moore and the superhero together is based on a loose interpretation. Before his transformation, Peter Parker is a downtrodden, scrawny, mop-headed nerd who awkwardly converses with his love interest and is much shorter than Moore at a generous approximation of 5-foot-8.

Moore isn’t the shyest of individuals. He can’t fly or spin webs, but he has soared through the air for two straight years securing the title of UC Irvine’s Midnight Magic slam-dunk contest champion. Though he admits that he and his teammates are often jabber-mouths around campus, the charismatic shooting guard has been known to shy away from attention on the basketball court before instantly striking.

As the third leading scorer for UCI last season, Moore took a back seat to teammates Eric Wise and Michael Hunter. On Mar. 6, 2010, the Anteaters faced Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in a must-win contest. A win guaranteed a playoff spot in the Big West Tournament and a loss sent the ’Eaters packing. As Moore stood across from teammates Rembert and Wise in the late minutes of the game while a Mustang opponent shot a free throw, they could sense their seasons coming to an end.

“We said, damn this is it,” Moore said.

Down eight points with just a minute left in regulation, Moore pulled off possibly one of the most memorable performances in school history, hitting two three-pointers in the final nine seconds of regulation. The second basket tied the game at 74 apiece as Moore hit a fade-away jumpshot with .9 seconds on the clock and sent the game into overtime. The Anteaters won 91-84 on Moore’s then-career-high 24 points.

Moore carried over his heroics to this season. Shortly after his photographs went viral, he scored a new career-high 30 points against the University of San Diego (a team that recruited Moore out of high school) on Dec. 1, while pulling down 11 boards. He has emerged as a more lethal threat driving to the basket, bodying up in the post and playing stifling defense. Moore leads the Anteaters with 16.6 points and 2.17 steals per game, while securing 117 total rebounds in 18 games.

The senior captain’s success hasn’t been handed to him on a silver platter. A Chino Hills native, Moore wasn’t a star growing up. Upon entering Chino Hills’ Ayala High School, Moore was placed on the freshman team. It wasn’t until his junior year on campus before he cracked the varsity team’s roster.

“We ended up losing in the playoffs to Darren Collison’s team who plays now for the Indiana Pacers. He played for Etiwanda High School and they were one of the top teams in the nation at the time,” Moore said.

Moore started his college career out of state, attending Northern Colorado University as a freshman. Located 50 miles north of Denver, UNC is situated in a town of nearly 100,000 residents. However, when he arrived, he was turned off by the atmosphere.

“The weather out there was extremely tough. I couldn’t deal with it,” Moore said about his culture shock. “The worst day out here [Irvine] is probably right now and it’s not even cold,” he said last week, rotating his head and taking in a partly cloudy winter afternoon. “Out there on a great day when people are playing Frisbee, it’s like 45 degrees.”

Following his freshman season at UNC, he transferred to a junior college. As a sophomore at Citrus College in Glendora, his team finished 35-1 and won the California state championship before Moore became an Anteater in 2008.

“I don’t regret any of my tattoos,” he said, “They all meant something to me at the time.”

As he eased back in his chair at The Ink Shop tattoo parlor in Chino in November 2008, his basketball career had hit rock bottom.

Granted a medical redshirt just six games into his career at UCI in what was expected to be his junior season of college athletics, Moore was fearful that his short stint as an Anteater would soon come to an end due to a torn patella tendon in his right leg.

He lay on his stomach and had then President-elect Barack Obama tattooed on his left calf, opposite to the leg he had been rehabbing.

“That whole year I was rehabbing, sitting on the bench, feeling sorry for myself,” Moore said of his first year at UCI.
For a player who’s flown under the radar throughout his career, dating back to childhood, Moore appears to have found solace through his body art and maybe even a sense of confidence. Now as the senior captain and sociology major closes out his final quarter of college, he does so with hopes of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament in March.

“He’s been a go-to-player,” Head Coach Russell Turner said of Moore. “He’s stepped up a great deal as our leading scorer, especially when Wise has been out. On defense he creates havoc and is leading the conference in steals.”

After the season Moore plans to try his hand overseas.

“I’ve always wanted to get paid for playing basketball,” he said.

As a boy, Moore recalls falling in love with the game while going to the park and watching his father throw down windmill dunks. Now his father has the honor of observing his son’s games at UCI as Darren shakes the rim.

When the two-time dunk champion was asked whether fans might marvel at some of his highlight-reel dunks anytime soon, he responds, “I hope so! A couple of ice packs, some yoga and some stretching, and they might see some.”