The evolution of an iconic brand logo

September 11, 2014

The NBA has been getting a lot of attention recently, what with the whole LeBron return to Cleveland thing, and the controversy over the LA Clippers ownership fight. Amid all this NBA media coverage, it’s easy to forget that there was a time, less than 50 years ago, when the NBA, as a professional sports enterprise, had trouble drawing much attention at all, even in the cities where they actually played (see Buffalo Braves). As the 1960s came to a close, the NBA was struggling to compete not only with football and baseball for public and media attention, they were also being challenged for fans, players, and millions of dollars by the upstart American Basketball Association (ABA)!

It was around this time, in 1969, that the NBA turned to a brand consultant, Alan Seigel, to help design a logo that would capture the essence of the NBA as it existed at the time. After pouring through thousands of Sport magazine photos, he came across an image of the legendary Los Angeles Laker guard Jerry West driving to the basket, and feeling that it captured the beauty and grace of the NBA game, developed a logo based on that image.

The rest, as they say, is history. Slowly, the NBA grew in popularity as extraordinary players like Julius (Dr. J) Erving, Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson became mega stars and elevated the league among fans and the media.

They were then followed by perhaps one of the greatest, and most dominant athletes in any sport, Michael Jordan, who almost single-handedly carried the NBA to where it is now, a global phenomenon with, as reported in Forbes earlier this year, revenues of $4.6 billion in 2013.

It is in this current golden age for the NBA, that there has now emerged something of a controversy over the league’s logo that was created lo those many years ago.

While there is no denying that Jerry West was one of the all time greats, and an extraordinary talent, the reality is that the much of the current success, and wealth, that the league enjoys is due to a later generation of stars, with the super nova being, of course, Michael Jordan.  And, much like West, Jordan has also established a visual identity that is uniquely his own; a soaring drive to the basket, where he would slam the basketball through the hoop, an image made famous by Nike’s line of Air Jordan products.

So now, to reflect the faster and more athletic NBA game than the one Jerry West played back in 1969, some have expressed the belief that perhaps the NBA should refresh the logo to represent a league that has been built to it’s present glory by a new generation of players. And despite the likely conflict with the Nike Air Jordan brand logo, some have even suggested using a silhouette very similar to, if not exactly like, the Air Jordan image.

And along with the rationale of a logo refresh because of the NBA being a different game built by a new generation of players, there is another factor that some feel should be a considered when thinking about how the league markets itself. The NBA has the highest percentage (78%) of African American players of any major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada, so perhaps it’s time for the league to embrace that diversity in the images used to promote it.

So, is a brand’s evolving history and place in our society a valid reason for refreshing a logo? Or is it more important for a brand to maintain the legacy from which a logo was borne, even if it is no longer truly representative of who is living, driving and creating that brand?

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