Tim O'Grady, the NBA's first creative director, weighs in on recent logo changes.
A Buck got meaner. A Wizard disappeared. A dinosaur shows off his claws. And black made an entrance in L.A. Okay, so maybe that’s an oversimplified version of what has happened with three official logo changes for NBA teams and another that appears imminent. But with the changes, did these four teams make an improvement?
Tom O’Grady, the NBA's first creative director and more recently Gameplan Creative’s chief creative officer in Chicago, weighs in, grading the four changes and giving expert design context for SI.com.
Review: In 1993, the Bucks introduced a buckhead design, moving away from “Bango the Buck,” the cartoon-like character from the 1970s and 80s and introducing purple and silver with a new hunter green—the official Wimbledon colors, O’Grady says, inspired by then-coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. By 2006 the Bucks went back to a more history-filled grass green and red.
New: The buckhead just got a bit bigger and more ominous, what O’Grady calls “a solid evolution to the previous design.” The buckhead, though, now has a cream colored semicircle that softens the overall design and diminishes the fierceness of the new logo. The wordmark rolls under the buck, which includes a clever M as its neck. The logo uses hunter green and cream with a bright blue in secondary marks.
Pros/Cons: O’Grady praises the strong buckhead, but says the semicircle is soft and too central to the design. Plus, he’s quite skeptical of how well cream—not a traditional sports color—will play on licensed gear. The circle also grows cluttered by giving equal weight to the words Milwaukee and Bucks.
O’Grady Grade: C+ “I’m curious to see how the Bucks extend the new identity on uniforms—always center focus of a team identity,' he says. "The cream color will be a challenge to drive mass merchandise appeal.”
Review: Due to the high crime rate in Washington, D.C., the Bullets changed to the Wizards in 1997, unveiling a slate blue, black, and metallic bronze logo that synchronized with the newly rebranded Washington Capitals NHL team, O’Grady says. The abstract wizard was a strong contrast to more animated logos of the late 90s. In 2011, the team updated the colors, going with red, white, and blue, making only slight tweaks to the logo at the time. The team added two secondary logos then, O’Grady points out, including one with the Washington Monument.
New: Without the fanfare we’re accustomed to seeing, the Wizards released a new primary logo on April 15, which completely eliminated the wizard from its logo and brought the Washington Monument to more prominence. “The team’s new primary logo is actually the 2011-designed secondary logo modified by adding a roundel shape with a campaign button treatment and the team name Washington Wizards top and bottom,” O’Grady says.
Pros/Cons: O’Grady likes the red, white, and blue for a D.C.-based team, but says adding so many elements to what was a clean iconographic secondary logo has cluttered it. Other concerns center around the design “crutch” of using the roundel shape yet again to encapsulate the logo and the current trend of D.C.-related marks having a campaign button theme. But, of course, the full elimination of the wizard begs the question of when will we see a new nickname coming from Washington?
O’Grady Grade: C Even with the cluttered concerns and cliché uses on the new primary, losing the 90s abstract wizard isn’t causing anyone anxiety. Bringing in the monument proves a strong point for Washington.
Review: Don’t we all love movies that inspire sports? From the NHL’s Ducks to Toronto. The original 1995 logo featured a velociraptor inspired by Jurassic Park. O’Grady says original team owner John Bitove Jr. “challenged NBA Creative Services to create, in his words, the ‘happy meal’ of NBA team logos,” something kids would love. The dribbling raptor played within the red, black, and purple color scheme. Over time, colors have changed and the team has played with its secondary claw mark logo.
New: The Raptors, as O’Grady explains, introduced a new primary logo featuring a basketball with a set of claw marks inserted into a roundel shape with a nondescript sans-serif Toronto Raptors font in a red, black, and silver color palette. Brooklyn Nets north?
Pros/Cons: O’Grady says using the claw marks is a subtle way to suggest dinosaur without having a dribbling raptor and black, silver, and red are colors that should extend well onto product. But the simplicity of the new identity has the potential to underwhelm the consumer. “The Raptors are another team defaulting to a roundel, font-contained logo,” he says, “decreasing the logo’s impact as fresh and innovative.
O’Grady Grade: C An uninspired C, at that, O’Grady says. “The new identity is well-crafted, but lacks emotional impact. The roundel shape is too commonplace and black, silver, and red are overplayed in the sports identity color quilt,” he says. “The pendulum swung too far to the safe side versus the original in-your-face Raptors logo. They missed an opportunity here to reboot a unique and dynamic Raptors brand identity.”
Los Angeles Clippers
Review: The Clippers name was born in San Diego in 1978. And other than a deeper blue, the logo has remained relatively intact since the team’s move to Los Angeles in 1982. A mid-1990s logo change was approved, but retracted at the last minute by then-owner Donald Sterling, even after NBA licensees had begun sampling new products, O’Grady says.
New: Nothing is official. Let’s be clear. But leaks from every corner of the design world suggest the Clippers have a new logo, which introduces Clippers in an all-black typeface with an LAC monogram inserted into a symmetrical graphic basketball and red and blue linework that frames the logo in a similar weight, O’Grady says, to the current logo. Los Angeles has been removed, but the L.A. lives on in the monogram.
Pros/Cons: O’Grady says the Clippers were long overdue for a rebrand. While adding black proves predictable, it does bring a new style to a team long associated with only red and blue. O’Grady, though, says the monogram proves tough to decipher and he says losing Los Angeles removes a “clear connection to a great basketball city.” Sure, there is no water, nautical, or clipper ship imagery, but there hasn’t been since the San Diego days (save for the almost logo in the 90s).
O’Grady Grade: B- “Solid. Simple.”
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.