As we’ve discussed here several times, many NBA team logos include an image of a basketball. This was a particular concern a few years ago, when the league briefly tried to introduce a new ball design, which led me (and probably others) to wonder if all those teams would have to revise their logos.
That question became moot when the new ball experiment was abandoned. But a larger question remains: Why do so many NBA teams have basketballs in their logos? Is this an intentional or strategic point of difference with the other leagues (since most NFL team logos don’t include a football, most MLB logos don’t include a baseball, etc.)? Just a coincidence that’s developed over the years? Something else altogether? And when the NBA commissions a new logo, is the designer specifically instructed to include a basketball, or has it just worked out that way?
I recently posed those questions to NBA apparel director Christopher Arena (one of the really good guys in the uni world, by the way). Here’s what he wrote back:
When we started the WNBA, we were very focused on ball icons in the logos (specifically a multi-colored ball). This was branding 101 — new league, awareness, blah-blah-blah. Same thing when we started to develop the D-League logos — no one knows who we are, lots of minor league sports competition, must show that we are about the game of basketball.
On the NBA side, it sort of just happened. Almost every team logo was developed prior to my 15 seasons here, so I don’t know if it is intentional or not. But as a young league, my guess is that in the ’40s and ’50s maybe they had the same brand-building concerns. I will say that as new logos have been created or updated, we have suggested that a basketball icon (not necessarily a ball) be integrated into the identity. Not necessarily the primary logo but maybe a secondary logo.
So we have:
• Teams with basketball icons in their primary logo: 23, if you count Portland (the 5-on-5 inspiration) and Houston (the net inspiration). Most of these are the original designs (Lakers, Celtics, Wizards, Pacers) or are updates of logos that had a basketball (Knicks, Pistons, Suns).
• Teams with basketball icons in their secondary logo but not their primary: 5. Interestingly, some of these are very new logos and we didn’t include it in the primary but felt it fit in a secondary — Bobcats, Wolves, Grizzlies, Bucks, and Nuggets (older but same principle).
• Teams with no basketball icon: Bulls, Spurs.
I would say that if a team approached me tomorrow about changing its logo, we would suggest a ball or net or something be somewhere in the identity. As for the other sports leagues, I think baseballs or bases or diamonds are in a lot of the primary [MLB] logos, but they are so hat-icon-based that it gets lost (the Brewers’ old mb logo is still best of all time). Same thing with the NFL and helmet logos, which sort of developed into the actual logos. Plus a football has an odd shape — basketballs and roundness and symmetry are easier to work with.
All very interesting. Personally, though, I think the use of basketballs in NBA logos is overdone. This is no longer a young league (sure it’s a lot younger than the NFL or MLB, but there’s a whole generation of fans who don’t know or care about that), so no need to say, “Hey, this game we’re playing here is BASKETBALL.” And the repetition of the ball throughout so many of the marks starts to feel willful after a while — like, “We’re doing it because we have to do it, because that’s just the way we do it.” Or to put it another way, “Because we have to” can be just as damaging as “Because we can.”
Big thanks to Christopher for sharing his time and expertise on this — much obliged.
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