It all started in 2000 at Route 66 Tattoo in Albuquerque, N.M.

Chris Andersen had grown up in tiny Iola, Texas, the son of Linda Holubec. She rode a Harley-Davidson and had a number of tattoos.

When Andersen was in high school in the late 1990s, Holubec had gotten flowers, vines and butterflies inked on her ankles, legs and back. Her son liked what he saw.

“He thought they were cool and he wanted to get a tattoo, so I said I would pay for it,’’ Holubec said. “But he wanted to take his time before he got one.’’

The time arrived at age 21, when the 6-foot-10 Andersen joined the minor-league New Mexico Slam after playing hoops in China. Holubec had ridden her Harley 800 miles from Iola, population 430, to Albuquerque to see her son play. The two then went to Route 66 Tattoo on Central Avenue, which really is part of the historic highway.

Andersen had Chinese symbols inked on the insides of his forearms. The one on the left stands for “good’’ and the one on the right for “evil.’’

Since then, Andersen’s tattoos have increased at a brisk pace. It’s gotten to point that Denver-based John Slaughter, his regular tattoo artist, estimates he has them on 75 percent of his body.

To say the Miami Heat backup center is now the most famous heavily tattooed person in the world might not be a stretch. Many millions are looking on as the Heat face the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, and the man nicknamed Birdman has become a key cog for Miami after signing with the team in January.

“Is Tommy Lee more famous than the Birdman?’’ Heat forward Shane Battier pondered. “Birdman might be more famous because the dude’s 6-foot-(10) and has got a mohawk, so he really can’t hide in a crowd. So he’s pretty famous. And he’s current. So Birdman might get the nod over Tommy Lee.’’

After getting his initial tattoos in Albuquerque, Andersen soon got two more at Tattoo Consortium in Bryan, Texas, just down the road from Iola. He had inked on his left arm a basketball player hanging from a rim and on his chest a bulldog with the inscription “Good Old Boys.’’

Holubec said she paid several hundred dollars for those early tattoos while Andersen was making next to nothing playing in the minor leagues. After Andersen was called up from the D-League to join the Denver Nuggets in November 2001, his tattoos really began to multiply. Andersen was at a restaurant that first season in Denver when he was spotted by Slaughter.

“I introduced myself and we started talking, and I said to come on down to the shop,’’ Slaughter said.

Slaughter runs Tribe Tattoo. He has a great appreciation for Native American and other tribes, so the shop is filled with many artifacts. Andersen visited, and it wasn’t long before Slaughter gave him his first tattoo. It was before he was nicknamed Birdman, which happened at the Rocky Mountain Revue summer league in July 2002 when Nuggets teammates marveled at his leaping ability.

“The first one was a pit bull on his chest about the size of a softball,’’ Slaughter said. “He had always had pit bulls and he liked them. And we just became friends.’’

Andersen signed with New Orleans as a free agent in 2004, and his journey took him to Oklahoma City, where the Hornets played after Hurricane Katrina hit from 2004-06, back to New Orleans in 2007-08, back to Denver from 2008-12, and finally to Miami this season.

Andersen's NBA journey also included a major detour, for turned out to be two years, when he was suspended for failing a drug test in January 2006.

But wherever Andersen has gone, there’s been only one man who does his tattoos. Slaughter has covered his body with what he calls the “brightest tattoos in the NBA.’’

“He’s very efficient and he’s got a steady hand and he’s very talented, so I stuck with him,’’ Andersen said. “If you get a tattoo, you better make sure the artist is good and check his portfolio. But I’ve obviously been with John Slaughter for 10 years plus, so he’s been doing something right. So we also became good friends in the process.’’

With Birdman's popularity soaring due to his energetic play, tattoos and mohawk, it’s become chic for Internet sites to post slideshows of Andersen throughout the years. He’s gone from having few tattoos while with the D-League’s Fayetteville (N.C.) Patriots in 2001 to his current state, where about the only unmarked skin visible when he plays is on his face and parts of his legs.