THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF REBRANDING IN BASKETBALL

BRANDING

basketball hoop in fading sunlight

CONTENTS

51 min read

When it comes to basketball, the USA have been a powerhouse in both mens, women’s and college basketball. Because of this, they have some of the most recognisable brands in basketball, some being good, and some not so good.

This post will focus on the NBA and the WNBA for branding and rebranding, with the idea of expanding the article out as new brands pop up, as well as looking overseas to the European leagues.

Some of the examples are more historic rebrands and some are more recent. They will show the changes in trends and how many different factors can contribute to a basketball team’s rebrand.

miami heat rebrand

Miami Heat Rebrand

Year: 1999 Agency: N/A

The Miami heat entered the NBA in 1987 and since then have had a great deal of success throughout their years in the league. Although they had a rebrand in 1999, it’s worth mentioning that they actually held an open call for the original branding. This is always a good way to get the fanbase involved although, depending on the entries, this can be disastrous.

Before that open call, they also held a naming contest. The results could have seen the Miami Heat actually be the Miami Flamingos. Which to be honest, would have been amazing, but might have been a challenge in terms of design.

So back to 1999. The Heat had been around for just over a decade, and the gradient on their flaming ball was starting to look tired (even for 1999). So the flaming ball was stripped back to two separate colours, the burgundy for beneath the hoop and orange for above the rim. Partner this with black and white, and it has become a classic look for Miami, and one of the most recognisable logos in American sports.

The word mark was also updated with a tweaked “T” character, making it look less clunky and more balanced.

The Heat have never had a complex logo with multiple elements linking back to city landmarks. But they have always done a good job in utilising the “Heat” name. While Lebron James, Dwanye Wade and Chris Bosh were winning titles, they had all red and all white uniforms, labelled red hot and white hot uniforms. The latest sets of uniforms that depict an 80’s, Miami Vice feel which has been a hit in the NBA since being introduced in 2017/2018.

The Miami Heat uniform shows that as a sports team brand, you can always bring in new elements that link to the name or even just a trend at that time.

dallas mavericks rebrand side by side

Dallas Mavericks Rebrand

Year: 2001 Agency: N/A

When you think of the Dallas Mavericks, you tend to think of Dirk Nowitzki and team owner Mark Cuban. But it hasn’t always been that way, before Mark Cuban took over as owner.

The Mavericks had a totally different brand to what you see now. No horse, no silver and navy, They actually had a stetson hat on the wordmark, which was a signature of the previous owner apparently.

When teams do get new ownership, it is expected that they would like to put a stamp on their era for the team.

Mark Cuban was no different.

Green was ditched from the colour palette and was replaced with a dark navy and silver. This gives the brand a more cold and steely look, which is emphasised by the intimidating white stallion that wraps around a basketball.

The white stallion follows the branding trend at the time, which was to introduce an animal graphic into the logo. But the Mavericks seemed to introduce an animal that was a little more subtle and doesn’t look as dated- a fate not quite as well avoided by a lot of the NBA brands.

The brand is now almost 20 years old and there have been rumblings that the Mavericks will be looking to rebrand in the coming years. They have also run polls with the fans to gauge their thoughts on logos through the years.

Many liked the old logos from before Mark Cubans time.

Could this mean big change is coming for the Mavericks in the coming years?

More than most industries, sports allow you to really get an idea of how your brand is doing through your fan base. They will always let you know when they are thinking a change is needed. And when it all comes down to it, the fans are the ones you want to buy in.

hornets rebrand side by side

Charlotte Bobcats / Charlotte Hornets Rebrand

Year: 2003 Agency: Gameplan Creative / Year: 2014 Agency: Rare Design

So this section is a mixture of two rebrands for the same city of Charlotte. The Hornets appeared first when the expansion team was given to Charlotte in 1988 by the NBA. They had some exciting years, with the main memories for most being Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning and Muggsy Bogues lighting up the NBA in teal and purple.

In 2002 they relocated to New Orleans, taking the hornets name with them.

Throughout this post there will be a few instances where I will mention that a team relocated to a different city. In American sports more than any other country, teams move location. This can be because of many reasons, from financial motivation to acts of god.

It makes for some very interesting situations when it comes to branding. For example, New Orleans had an NBA team way back when called the New Orleans Jazz. The name was linked to New Orleans, for the city’s world renowned love of jazz.

The team was moved to Utah, to form what is still the Utah Jazz of today. Now I am not saying there are people in Utah that don’t love jazz, but the name is obviously linked to New Orleans. But the jazz for Utah has stuck.

In other cases new names are created and the replaced name and teams cease to exist.

In Charlotte’s case, The Hornets relocation to New Orleans left the city without a franchise for two years. But in 2004 the Charlotte Bobcats were created, being the newest expansion team to come into the NBA.

The bobcats were an exciting prospect for me personally. Living in England and with football being the main sport of choice, teams moving and expansions are almost unheard of.

This was something totally different and the bright orange colour palette of this new team only reinforced that.

But not all was well with the branding of the Charlotte Hornets.

The name itself is an odd story, usually NBA team names are created with the city in mind. And when reading about the creation of the bobcats new name it started like that, they ran focus groups that helped pick out a run away favourite.

The run away favourite name was: Charlotte Flight.

This had meaning to the state of North Carolina, and seemed an odds on winner.

The owner decided that Bobcats would be the name, the owner being named “Bob” is some of the reasoning behind it.

This naming process is again a trend when it comes to American sports. In english football, teams have such history and importance that the names would never be changed unless something pretty dramatic happens. But with the NBA like many American leagues, names change more often than other sports.

Back to the bobcats. Along with the odd nature of the naming choice, it seems a lot of people feel it was cobbled together and rushed. And in 11 years of existence, they have had around four uniform changes and tweaks to the brand. This lack of consistency in such a short space of time was not only in the brand, it also leaked into the performances on the court.

So when New Orleans decided they wanted to ditch the “Hornets” name and create a brand related to the city of New Orleans. It made Charlotte’s decision easy to ditch the “Bobcats” brand and bring back the teal and purple Hornets from days gone by.

This was exciting news for everyone that was a Charlotte basketball fan. But this also brought a burden on the brand to deliver on this anticipation.

The new Charlotte Hornets brand was a modern update from the old brand from 2002. It was created in the same style as the Atlanta / Sacramento and New Orleans rebrands of similar times. A clean approach with an angular, almost angry looking hornet mascot.

The brand logo is much more balanced than the original logo and looks much better than the Bobcats logo.

The historic teal and purple has been given a vibrancy shot, altogether creating an exciting update to the original brand.

When it comes to NBA teams, there are normally multiple versions of the logo, making it easier to use the brand through a multitude of different media and platforms and the new Hornets brand was no different.

This technique does not only apply to NBA teams, and having smaller or more minimal versions of your brand logo is almost mandatory now, in the world of smaller and smaller screens.

Alongside the logo and main branding, subtle things stood out with the rebrand. The court design being created in a honeycomb pattern to reflect a Hornet nest.

The fanbase was referred to as the hive. The use of “Buzz City” on some of the jerseys and advertisements.

All this brings more meaning to the brand rather than just being a name.

Personally I love this rebrand. It has the right balance of history and modern design, bringing new life to a franchise’s brand that was severely lacking.

Seattle Supersonics Rebrand to Oklahoma City Thunder

Year: 2008 Agency: N/A

I think it is safe to say that we were all a little heartbroken when the Seattle Supersonics were taken from us.

To this day we are still waiting for the team to come back.

But in 2008 the owner decided to move the team to Oklahoma City, while the city of Seattle would keep the Supersonics name but cease to exist as a team.

So, let’s look at the logo.

Personally I like the colours (although I am not sure what connection they have to the city, apparently the city sunset?).

Overall though, the whole logo setup is awkward and doesn’t seem to fit anywhere nicely, even the smaller OKC logo has the coloured strikes coming through… and it seems that I am not the only one that thinks this.

When researching, one comment I came across asked whether the basketball within the logo was a clipart basketball. Whether this was just a joke or a genuine question, it is always a little worrying when the phrase “clipart” is being brought up in regards to logos.

There are more issues with the Oklahoma branding.

The thunder typeface is quite weak for such a strong and intimidating word.

Thunder curving around the top of the shield, but never quite looking like it’s in the right place.

At least the OKC is bold and striking, but again because the lettering is at such an awkward angle it’s hard to see it being used anywhere else.

For me, I don’t live in Oklahoma City, but I imagine there is something about the city that the logo could have latched onto.

It seems that no thought has been put into connecting the branding to the city. Even the ‘Thunder’ name seems to have been dropped in, without creating any graphic that links it.

The Thunder are a young team in comparison to many in the NBA, and no doubt they will tweak the branding through the coming years.

Unfortunately, it does feel like a missed opportunity for them to really cement a strong brand…

but that could just be the designer in me talking.

When you read the comments of the OKC fans, a lot of them are happy with the logo, and that could be because of the team’s success and competitiveness.

It does show how a brand of a sports team can become ingrained in the fanbase, and there is a sense of ownership and a proud mentality attached to the success.

While doing some research, I did come across this rebrand example, which I actually really liked.

Orlando Magic Rebrand

Year: 2010 Agency: N/A

In 2010 the Orlando Magic were trying to build on the success of new star Dwight Howard and their finals appearance. The uniforms had already changed, but the branding was still the old logo.

In an effort to bring more consistency through the brand, a new logo was created using the workmark that had been put on the jerseys a few years previous. One big thing to mention is that they didn’t want a total rebrand and wanted to bring through familiar elements from the existing brand.

The main colour palette of the blue, white, black and silver stayed and really, there is no need to change it as it works.

On that note, the Magic had built up many years with this colour palette. Through the Penny and Shaq years, the T-Mac years and now the Howard years. It would be almost criminal to ditch that without good reason.

Along with the colour palette, the secondary logo of the ball in the bolt has also stayed. This more transitional approach is always a good idea if you are not willing to take a massive leap and totally rebrand. Slowly change elements while retaining a lot of the equity built up by the previous brand.

The new brand itself was a necessary update in my eyes, the old logo was beginning to look dated and a little childish.

The new brand has a more professional feel about it. Creating a feeling that the team means business and has a more ‘grown up’ feel to it.

With the Magic’s most recent trip to the finals, they definitely want to look like they belong.

new orleans pelicans rebrand

New Orleans Pelicans Rebrand

Year: 2013 Agency: Rare Design or N/A

As I mentioned in one of the previous sections, New Orleans had a shaky start in the NBA.

After taking the Hornets name from Charlotte and then having to relocate to Oklahoma City for a short time after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was ready to solidify its NBA status.

They wanted to create a brand that was completely their own.

And so the New Orleans Pelicans were born.

The brand they created is an absolute winner in my eyes. It distances itself from the Hornets and Oklahoma City significantly, making sure the brand was theirs.

The brand logo itself is made up of the Fleur-De-Lis with a wordmark to match, a pelican and a basketball. All of these were inspired by the city and its different elements, from the famous french quarter, the native bird, to the crescent city nickname of the city- these details are all part of a bigger brand that is very much New Orleans.

The team’s colours were totally new as well, but again had strong links to the city itself. The Blue is taken from Louisiana’s state flag, the red represents the vibrant colour underneath the pelicans throat, and the gold colour is shared with the NFL team New Orleans Saints. This creates a sense of ownership of all the New Orleans teams in all the sports. All of these colours are also found in the New Orleans flag, which roots the brand deeper to the city.

The name itself was initially seen as an odd choice, it makes sense but it doesn’t seem to have that intimidating feel to it. Other NBA teams chose much more aggressive animals, for example, the grizzlies, hornets or hawks.

But when you look at some other franchise names, Celtics, Lakers, Jazz they are also not intimidating and they work.

This is all about the city and it doesn’t need to be intimidating, it just needs to be theirs.

I love the New Orleans Pelicans Rebrand. The strong links to the city shows they are in it for the long haul and want to solidify their position in the NBA. The brand has a unique feel to it when it comes to sports team brands. It doesn’t have the typical energetic spark and the feel of motion, but I think that is what makes it different and exciting.

And after all, the city is not like any other, so it makes it perfect that their branding isn’t just another sports team brand.

WNBA Rebrand 2013

Year: 2013 Agency: OCD

With the WNBA rebrands, I’m going to split this up. As a growing brand I think it’s important to show where they were in 2013 and then where they were in 2019. The 2019 WNBA rebrand will be in chronological order further on in the post.

The first thing of note with the 2013 rebrand is the new “logo woman” and the shape of the logo itself. They have brought it inline with the mens league and created a rectangle logo, but have given their logo a unique look in the orange and oatmeal colours.

These factors are representative of the instantly recognisable WNBA game ball.

The women silhouette has been totally redrawn to showcase what the athletes in this ever-growing league can do.

I think this step is really symbolic. It shows that they have built their own brand rather than being the women’s side of the NBA, even though they have moved towards the same shape as the NBA.

Alongside the new silhouette, there is some unique typography for the WNBA. Although you may not see it straight away, the “WNBA” word mark is actually a mashup of caps and non caps letters, which once you have seen it, you can’t unsee it.

Again, this could be my designer’s mentality coming into play but personally I am not keen on it, and as you see it throughout the typeface on visuals, it becomes a little more noticeable.

The inline aspect to the typography is nice, but again I think it would have worked better in an all caps, where you won’t have as many odd curves.

Overall, although they have done this rebrand while operating within some of the guidelines used by the NBA, they have managed to create their own unique brand, from the colour to the new logo silhouette. This is a big step in the right direction, or at least a step away from the NBA as they continue to build a following and their own brand in their own right.

phoenix suns rebrand

Phoenix Suns Rebrand

Year: 2013 Agency: Fisher

When it comes to a truly successful NBA franchise, the Phoenix Suns don’t normally come to mind. But since entering the league in 1968 the Suns have the 4th best winning percentage in the NBA.

You think of the good years with Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson, or Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire.

There isn’t too much to talk about in the 45 years preceding this rebrand, but with new young talent and hope for the future in Devin Booker, The Suns decided an update was needed to bring the franchise brand up to date and set them for the future.

The new brand boasts a tidied version of both the main logo and some darker colours to the palette. Which I am not too sure on, I love the bright purple and orange. I am glad they have kept this colour combo with the jerseys rather than moving away from them..

Onto the typography, they have gone with a 3D element.

I would have said this looks dated but considering this was a good few years ago, and so many teams have now gone with the flat minimal style, it almost feels like a good move, distancing themselves from the pack.

The angles on the type also do well to stick within the style of the sunburst logo, as some more recent brands have just dropped in angles for the sake of it.

When it comes to the brands secondary logos, they have kept the bird logo, just bringing it in line with the main logo. They have another alternate mark, which seems to be the odd one out as they have gone for a much more flat design with less complexity.

Overall it does look good, but doesn’t sit very well with the rest of the brand logos, which are more complex and have an extra dimension to them.

Since this rebrand, the Suns have again updated their uniforms when the NBA switched from Adidas to Nike.

They have updated the wordmark on the front of each of their jerseys, which is quite different from the wordmark used in the branding. This may be a sign of another update to the branding of the Suns, but when it comes to NBA branding, the logo and wordmarks on the uniforms don’t have to match, and, to be honest, rarely do so.

Overall this rebrand wasn’t a huge change, ,more of an update with the times. The typography at the time could have been seen as dated but now, with more teams going for a clean cut type, I think this gives a unique look in comparison. The Phoenix Suns have plenty of talent on the court and are hoping to become a rising team in the NBA.

The rebrand is a good tidy up to make sure if they do, they will look good doing it.

tulsa shock rebrand

Tulsa Shock Rebrand to the Dallas Wings

Year: 2015 Agency: N/A

The Tulsa Shock were one of the first expansion teams into the WNBA a couple of years after the WNBA came into being, originally founded in Detroit as the Detroit Shock before moving to Tulsa.

In 2015 it was announced that the team was relocating to Dallas, which already has plenty of sports teams… But plenty of teams means plenty of customers to entice. With the men’s NBA team Dallas Mavericks a big name in the area, the Shock have cherry picked a couple of elements from the men’s team branding to lean into…with their own unique twist.

The old angled Shock logo has been tilted back to facing forward and being given a symmetrical feel. The first element you notice is the pegasus mascot, which has a nod to the men’s team mascot and has the same steely, intimidating attitude. It’s all neatly executed and sits well within the sports team branding style.

Alongside the horse theme being carried over from the mens team, the colour palette has also taken inspiration from the men’s team- the light and dark blue with a green (although some people will call this yellow). The green is more of a neon colour rather than the mens forest green, and they have switched the light blue to be the main colour for the jerseys, whereas the logo sticks with navy blue as the main colour.

The typography is again neatly put together, but the “wings” typography suffers from a mixture of caps and non caps, with the G being in caps and the N being lowercase. This seems to be a go to technique when characters need to fit into a space. What I will say is without scrutinizing the brand, more often than not, you won’t realise it, but it does feel like with just a little bit more working on it and you could have it working in all caps.

This rebrand is a nice step forward from the dated Tulsa shock branding.

My issue with this is the fact that they moved into a heavily populated market that already has a multitude of sports teams, and it felt like they needed a big splash to announce their arrival.

Rather than a big splash, this rebrand seems to just fit in, fit in with the men’s team and fit in with sports team branding of this era generally. I understand the rationale behind it, but it is disappointing when they could have done something phenomenal and out there.

hawks rebrand side by side

Atlanta Hawks Rebrand

Year: 2015 Agency: Rare Design or N/A

The Atlanta Hawks branding is like any other, it has gone with trends of the times, minimal and colourful logos of the 70s and 80s through to the more complex and character filled logos of the 90s and early 2000s. You can really track throughout the NBA how this pattern runs, and the hawks are no exception.

With only a slight colour change to the brand in the mid 00s, and nothing much else since 1995, the Hawks were starting to look tired. In 2015 a big change came, a new logo, a new look on the court- everything you could think of.

They have ditched the complex character and outdated word mark and created a design that is reminiscent of their logo from the 70s and 80s. This more minimal approach and san serif word mark all within a clean compact circle represents both a step forward and a nod to their history.

The colours have also been updated, again moving back towards 70s and 80s colour, for anyone who knows the Hawks from those days, flashes of red and yellow and the human highlight film (Dominique Wilkins) flying through the air come to mind!

The bold colour palette consists of a fiery red representing Atlanta’s passion and independence, a volt green that speaks to the vibrancy of the city and a granite colour that represents the stone found all around the state of Georgia. These give the brand a jolt of the modern with their history intertwined.

The triangle or “feather” pattern is what ties everything together, bringing it back to the name itself “the Hawks”. This pattern runs throughout the brand, from the uniforms to the court and brings a very new element to a brand with plenty of history involved.

As with any sports team, branding can be in need of an update from time to time, and the hawks are no different. Only 5 years after the triangles were introduced, they are being retired. From reading up about it, a lot of people in Atlanta seem to be happy about it. Personally I like the triangles, but I can see how they have gotten old quickly. A huge trend in the NBA at the moment is bringing back old uniforms and rebranding them with a modern twist. Although the logo hasn’t changed too much, the uniforms have been updated significantly, the volt green has been ditched for a golden yellow similar to early hawks designs. The uniforms have been created to reflect the hawks jerseys of the 70s with new word marks and no triangle patterns.

When it comes to sports branding, and especially branding in the NBA, team history at the moment is everything. Being able to connect with all your fans through almost reliving better times seems to be the winner at the moment.

Who knows, in 20 or 30 years I may be writing a post about how people are paying silly money for the Hawks triangle jerseys again!

Personally the 2015 rebrand for the Hawks was incredibly successful in my eyes, it injected new life into an aging brand, representing the city and its people perfectly.

Unfortunately, after 5 years it had run its course in terms of the pattern, but the logo itself has remained and still looks as clean as ever.

raptors rebranded logo side by side

Toronto Raptors Rebrand

Year: 2015 Agency: Sid Lee

Much like the Dinosaurs themselves, the Raptors faithful colour changing, jersey and sneaker wearing raptor logo has become extinct.

To be honest it was probably time to see it go, even though it has become well and truly weaved into this team and city’s history. The Raptors needed to move away from the animal logo that was so popular with NBA teams in the 90s and early 00’s. Being the only team in the NBA that came from Canada since the Vancouver Grizzlies were a team, they had built a culture of us against the world, where the fanbase was truly proud of their Canadian heritage.

In 2014, this was amplified by the “We The North” campaign that has now become just as much a part of the team’s culture as the old raptor was.

So in 2015 the Raptors solidified this new identity with a new look. They Introduced a circular shield with the word mark wrapping around in a new typeface. In the middle you have a basketball with claw marks taken out of it.

Personally, although it doesn’t have so much odd character like the raptor did, it makes the team look so much more professional, which is something the team struggled with when they came into the league.

The claw is a nice subtle touch to the history of the team without bringing in actual claws or a raptor.

The logo is overall a more tidy layout, which means it is much easier to use across an ever increasingly digital world. The secondary logo is again a much more tidy and sophisticated version of the old secondary logo that was the jagged claws.

The colours have not seen much of a change, keeping with the reds, blacks and whites. The only significant change to the colourings was the introduction of a gold palette, bringing a classy feel with it. This rebrand is nothing too flashy, but definitely a step in the right direction for the Raptors, a grown up and more sophisticated look which demands to be taken seriously.

Since the rebrand, the Raptors have put the pedal to the floor on the “We The North” campaign and really built this into the brand. In the last couple of years they have introduced the chevron design to the uniforms, representing the north and the team they want to be.

All the branding and thought process came together in 2019 when the Raptors won their first NBA championship and have since announced that the chevron jerseys are now going to take over as the main jerseys.

This shows how creating a message and brand that everyone buys into and can be proud of can go a long way to helping a team succeed. The pride of the fanbase, and the fact they come from the “North” can be seen if you watch youtube videos of their fan park, aptly named “Jurassic Park”, while on the 2019 championship run.

Along with the new uniform announcement, they have also announced an update to the main logo in the past few weeks of writing this post. The greys have been ditched, solely running with the black, red and white. This fits nicely with the new uniforms, and shows that a brand is an ever evolving thing. It is something that needs updating with the times and as the raptors grow and build on their championship and the strength of their fanbase, the brand grows with them.

kings rebrand side by side

Sacramento Kings Rebrand

Year: 2016 Agency: Rare Design

The Sacramento Kings have been a mainstay of the NBA for sometime now, whether it be in Sacramento or Kansas City.

In recent years the purple, black and silver has offered a unique look in both their uniforms, but the brand from the mid 90s was really starting to look dated. Although I have always quite liked the King’s word mark, the emblem looked cartoonistic.

In 2016 (some would say long overdue) the Kings decided to rebrand, going with agency Rare Design.

It seems Rare Design either has a working deal with the NBA, or a hold on this section of the market. One thing I always worry about when a certain agency ends up doing this many sports team branding from one league is that they could end up looking very similar. For the most part, the modernisation and style of the graphics are similar, but the concepts behind each brand are unique to the team.

The Sacramento Kings rebrand took inspiration from their long history, avoiding this potential pitfall somewhat.

Before the brand from the mid 90s, the King’s logo had a nice flat logo that brought together a simple crown and basketball. The new rebrand tidies this old logo up, making it a more solid and clear logo layout, along with ditching the old red and blue colour scheme. By injecting a deeper purple with silver, and a blocky san serif, Rare rounds out the modernisation of the main logo and, to me, it looks good.

As with all NBA teams, the Kings also have secondary logos within the brand.

For the Kings secondary logo, they use lions as their core imaging. Although these new lion illustrations feel slightly disconnected from the main brand, it is traditional to use lions to represent royalty or nobility, which links in well with the “Kings” name.

It also gives them another visual to lean on other than the crown.

Unfortunately, one major sticking point with the lions is the fact that the two different lion logos don’t look the same. If they had created each logo with the same lion this may have worked so much better, and given a little bit of consistency to the brand.

The uniforms have obviously been updated as well, although they aren’t anything to write home about. They work and represent the new brand well, but I don’t know if I was looking for something a little more out there or different.

Overall, the Sacramento Kings rebrand was much needed and for me works really well.

Creating a modern looking brand, built on the history of the team.

As mentioned though, there are a few sticking points with the lions and the uniforms for me, so maybe not quite the slam dunk we were expecting.
timberwolves side by side logo redesign

Minnesota Timberwolves Rebrand / Minnesota Lynx Rebrand

Year: 2017 Agency: Rare Design

The Timberwolves have been one of my favourite brands in the NBA for a long time.

I think it was the mixture of the green with either the black or blue colour palette. The awesome 90s uniforms that had the tree patterns on sleeves and neckline, and the unique wordmarks didn’t hurt either.

The early to mid 90s brand was more of a flat icon, with a slightly soulless wolf, and the late 90s all the way through to 2017 brand had much more of a characterful wolf and overall brand. Although personally I think this was a perfectly good brand, I understand the need for an update. The NBA world had all but departed from the complex cartoon animals of the 90s and early 2000’s, and in all fairness to the Timberwolves they had some golden years with Kevin Garnett and company, but have not done much since.

Breathing new life into a brand, and bringing a new era of Minnesota basketball is probably what they needed.

Step in Rare Design….again.

The new logo mark has plenty of concept and thinking, from the direction the wolf is facing, representing how they want to be viewed as moving forward, to the fact that the wolf is breaking out of the circle, emphasising the team’s ability to fight through discouraging times.

A good trait to have on the basketball court.

There is a great explanation and thought piece about the timberwolves rebrand on Brand New, which explains a lot of the concepts in greater detail.

On the visual side they have created a more sinister looking wolf, looking more like the wolf of the early 90s brand. This creates a more intimidating look which sits well with the sports brand overall. The colour palette uses existing colours with a modern twist, with the vibrant green being the most stand out of the palette. Overall the new logo is a mixture of the old and new and is executed very well, with plenty of meaning behind it.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a modernisation without introducing a bold san serif font.

The new font is clean and nice, but I have to say I loved the old word marks. It was totally unique to the Timberwovles, maybe they could have stripped back the points and angles, but something more unique than a san serif with a pointy A would have brought more character to the brand.

One thing that is becoming more and more popular in the WNBA (The Women’s National Basketball Association) is to keep their branding consistent with the branding for their male counterpart.

The Minnesota Lynx is the women’s team in Minnesota, and alongside the rebrand of the Timberwolves, the Lynx also went down the same path, using the same logo, with a Lynx character rather than a wolf.

The Lynx rebrand works really well and although for the Timberwolves this new rebrand was trying to help bring in a new era of success, the Lynx since 2010 have been constantly successful, winning 4 championships in the period.

For all one team’s rebrand for most people only affects that team, this example shows how it can affect so much more. It isn’t just one team, it’s more often than not a city’s rebrand.

NBA teams, along with potentially having WNBA teams in the city, also have G-League teams (The development league of the NBA) which would typically have to follow suit with the main rebrand.

Overall, I think the Timberwolves and Lynx rebrands work really well, and again they have used elements from the past to inspire this modern rebrand. Although I am sad to see some of the old uniform graphics go, the update is welcome. One thing I would like to have seen is a little more character pumped into the typography.

cavs rebrand

Cleveland Cavaliers Rebrand

Year: 2017 Agency: Nike Identity Group

Fresh off the city’s first major sports championship in a very long time, the Cavaliers decided to mark that occasion with a rebrand.

Unfortunately it didn’t so much mark the occasion as help them slide into a trend which has taken over the NBA in recent years.

They have made it look more like a football shield without the heritage. They have brought through the sword and the unique ‘C’ from the previous logo which is a nice touch, but unfortunately the sword isn’t great. I really don’t like the way it hides behind the typography with what looks like a straight rectangular cut. It makes the sword and the typography look and feel so detached from each other.

The navy from the previous logo has been mostly ditched for the black, but the navy is still used elsewhere, and so it feels like they are fighting for position as the dominant dark colour in the brand.

One aspect of the rebrand I do like is the full commitment to the wine and gold colours that they had sported for a couple of years and when the team was created in the 70s.

When it comes to the typography, it again feels like they have fallen into the trend of putting lots of angles and cuts on the typography. With the sword being an element in the brand, you can see why they would want to replicate some sharp edges, but they are everywhere and feel unnecessary in places, no more so than on the “V” character.

Similar to many NBA brands of recent years they have multiple logos.

The second logo for the Cavs functions almost as a “global” or “International” logo and then a primary logo. For the Cavs, the “C” with the sword going through is the primary logo, and in the USA or within circles of fans of American sports, this is recognisable as the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Then they have the global logo which has the full name word mark on it. This is purely to make sure when people view this logo, it reinforces the brand’s name.

This is something that has become more and more apparent in recent rebrands and shows how teams are thinking globally to increase fan bases and exposure. With the ever growing popularity and accessibility to the NBA in the likes of Asia, Europe and many more places, it’s a good step in ensuring brand recognition globally.

Cleveland seem to have wanted to mark this point in their history with a bang, just after a championship win, they wanted a new look to push on to a new era. Unfortunately I feel they have slipped into the masses rather than standing out with this rebrand. There are some nice elements with the wine and gold colours, and bringing through the C and sword, but it all seems a bit unconsidered and lacking any respect of real history or a look to a solid future, it has just fallen in line with modern day trends.

nba rebrand side by side

NBA Rebrand

Year: 2017 Agency: OCD / Commercial Type / Erik van Blokland

Other than the ABA, which could have a branding post by itself, with some truly amazing brands (not all good) The NBA is the top basketball league in the USA, if not the world. It’s instantly recognisable silhouette character sandwiched between the american blue and red is the pinnacle of basketball stardom.

The league has been ever changing through the years, being a proud voice when it comes to social causes. As the league’s reach has increased in terms of branding, this means that the brand must be flexible and move between cultural borders and still appeal.

Instantly it springs to mind that the brand has to change and adapt, but with the NBA its main logo hasn’t changed since 1969.

It has been the brand consistency that has led to this far reaching recognition. Even with this most recent rebrand, the main logo has only changed slightly, taller letters, maybe to represent the size of the players, and a richer set of colours to bring a liveliness to the logo and play up to the vibrancy TVs are now capable of rendering.

As you look deeper into the rebrand, you realise that the taller characters are part of a much deeper overall of the typography, the new font has been brought through the whole of the brand. This really helps with consistency throughout as the whole packaging of NBA offerings, from Summer League to League Pass and all of the sub-brands, are easily recognisable as being under the brand umbrella of the NBA.

Overall the changes in this rebrand are minimal, but have brought new life and consistency throughout the brand. This shows that some considered tweaking is sometimes all that is needed, especially when you have such a recognisable logo in the first place.

Aces rebrand side by side

San Antonio Stars Rebrand to Las Vegas Aces

Year: 2017 Agency: Rare Design

The San Antonio Stars have been part of the WNBA in some form since 1997, when they were the Utah Starzz. Since then they moved to San Antonio and, for the 2018 season, relocated to Las Vegas to give the city their first professional basketball team.

Along with the Las Vegas Golden Knights in ice hockey, the Aces are another addition to a city on the rise in terms of sports teams. Furthermore, Las Vegas seems to be set up for success with this new women’s basketball team.

In terms of the rebrand, it is more like a fresh brand. With a move to a new city, they have started fresh, although the name “stars” could have easily fit into the Las Vegas landscape. It seemed they wanted something unique to a new team and a new era.

To be honest I think they have found a really nice balance in being distinctly “Vegas” and not being too cheesy. The links to the gambling games that vegas is famous for are clear to see.

The name “aces” and the diamond clearly allude to card games and gambling, but the reference is not so in your face that you are put off by it.

The treatment of the “A” and the “LV” are interesting and again fit nicely in the diamond shape. The only problem I see with the logo layout is the tall nature of it, but I suppose- as we have mentioned in this post already- teams tend to have multiple logos for all the different uses.

The Aces are no different, although the secondary logo that features the wings is the only thing I feel doesn’t fit into the brand. It feels a bit forced with the recognisable WNBA basketball pattern in the diamond with some odd wings added somewhat randomly.

The colour palette is the next connection to the city, using the famous red and black from multiple casino games and trimming everything with gold, which is a nod to the glitz and glamour of Vegas.

On the court the team is set up for success now and in the future, with two of the best players in the league on the team. With this new brand, the city can build a real culture and connection with its home fans rather than feeling like you are inheriting another city’s team.

The brand works really well other than a few odd bits and has plenty of links to the city and the culture of success.

And of course, our old friends Rare Design had a hand in it!

portland rebrand side by side

Portland Trailblazers Rebrand

Year: 2017 Agency: N/A

Portland have been a mainstay in the NBA since 1970 and have been pretty consistent throughout, winning a title in 1977. Along with their performances, the brand has been pretty consistent. The full name of the Portland team is the Portland Trail Blazers, although they are more commonly known as just ‘the Blazers’.

The brand mark, other than being tweaked slightly over the years and being partnered with different word marks, has again stayed pretty consistent. Within basketball circles and most American sports circles, this brand mark is instantly recognisable.

So why the rebrand?

Well don’t worry, they didn’t ditch the brand mark. The rebrand just tidied up the whole setup.

They have evenly spaced lines and straightened edges, balancing the mark and giving it a solid feel. A nice touch is the connection between the lines, symbolising the teamwork aspect of basketball.

I have to mention that I never really knew what the Blazers logo represented, I just liked it as they had something different to a normal sports team animal logo. When reading about the logo and realising it was constructed as a pinwheel, representing the 5 players on each team coming together at centre court, I am even more glad they decided to keep it.

Especially in this day and age, something so classic and iconic is often disregarded and it’s often detrimental.

Through reading about the rebrand, I’ve found that some people aren’t so keen on the word mark. I quite like it, although that’s not to say I wouldn’t change anything about it.

The points on the “P” and the “T” are very strong, and do seem to unbalance the wordmark somewhat. I don’t know if taking the curves from the brand mark so these points curved would help by matching the mark and linking it further to the mark itself.

Another thing I am not so sure about is that the word ‘Portland’ is so big in comparison to the words ‘Trail Blazers’. I would always call this team by the latter, or simply the Blazers, and I think that is the typical way of referring to them. I am all for being proud of your roots and city, but even people of Portland will have a connection to using “Blazers” so to put weight onto the Portland section instead seems very strange.

Lastly on the wordmark, they have used two different treatments for Portland and Trail Blazers. Portland has smooth curved edges, whereas the Trail Blazer wordmark has angular or square edges and I am not so sure about the logic behind this.

The Blazers continue to be a consistent part of the NBA and while the brand may not help them on the court, it certainly brings a feeling of proud ownership in fans.

The unique mark has stood the test of time and has been tweaked in this reband to continue doing so. The wordmark seems like it has always been a struggle, it’s such a long name and fitting it cohesively into a logo is difficult. With this rebrand it has been no different. Furthermore,the lack of consistency and odd choice to make Portland the main word just hasn’t worked in my eyes, but I do feel that with some slight tweaking to this, you could have a strong full logo.

nuggets rebrand logo side by side

Denver Nuggets Rebrand

Year: 2018 Agency: N/A

The Denver Nuggets are based in the state of Colorado and have always had a colourful and exciting brand, from the days of Alex English and Dikembe Mutombo with the rainbow coloured jerseys to the sky blue jerseys worn by Carmelo Anthony. This latest rebrand takes a more serious and adult look, boasting this is an evolution, not a revolution. And at first glance they seem to have done that.

Ditching the playful and awkward “nuggets” type for a more flexible circular logo mark was the first step. As we have mentioned before, this rebrand comes with multiple different versions of the main logo. One of these is the “Global Icon”, which is only used on an international level. It includes their name inside the circular badge, while the primary icon doesn’t include the name. The thought process behind how they use these logos is sound. For people outside the USA who maybe don’t know the familiar mark associated with the Denver Nuggets the name is there, clear to see.

The colours for this new brand have also been picked for specific reasons. They have moved away from the sky blue to a combination of a dark blue representing the Denver clear midnight skies, and a blue that is more representative of the Colorado flag and the team logo of the 70s.

The gold has remained, representing the gold found all over the state, but they have also added a lovely deep red that links the brand to the state of Colorado and its river.

Similar to the logo, the typography has taken a more grown up approach, getting rid of the curvy characters and going for a harsh all caps san serif. Personally I love the new typography, I think it fits with rugged and harsh landscapes found in Denver and Colorado. The only thing I dislike about it is the notches and spikes go a little too far, and I feel that if they took some of those away it would work much better.

Like many recent rebrands in the NBA, the graphics within the logo and the brand have been simplified, and no more than the Denver Nuggets pick axes, basketball and mountain peaks. All three are flat with only the peaks showing a sign of a shadow. This makes it very easy to replicate and is very recognisable at any size.

Overall this rebrand has brought a more grown up feel to the whole brand, trying to ditch the old cartoony brand. The colours and typography work for me and only add to this more grown up approach, although less notches in the typography would enhance the design.

With the evolution of the team on the court, and the potential of being serious contenders, this seems like a good move.

WNBA rebrand

WNBA Rebrand 2019

Year: 2019 Agency: Sylvian Labs

Since 2013 the WNBA has grown massively, with more and more players becoming household names. Along with the basketball and entertainment factor, the WNBA has become a symbol for social change and diversity. With this rebrand they grabbed onto this symbolic connection and ran with it.

Firstly, they have ditched to holding shape of the silhouette player, representing them breaking out of the norm and playing by their own rules. The logo woman herself has had an update, showcasing even more athleticism than the 2013 logo women and is a testament to the ever increasing standards and excitement of the WNBA.

For the 2013 rebrand, I mentioned that the orange colour was a great stand out point in building on their own unique brand. The ditched of the holding box emphasises this even more and really sets them apart from all other US major sports logos. And why would you not want to give yourself your own unique brand?

The typography is also really nice, although a little too extended, but again it gives the brand a unique look. This partnered with the more vibrant orange brings everything together.

I know plenty of people will think this is nothing fantastic in terms of a rebrand, but personally I think it is another huge step in the right direction. There is a balance that needs to be struck between just being different for the sake of it and actually having a reason to be different, and I think the WNBA brand sits on the right side of the fence with this.

This unique brand will hopefully inspire children, both boys and girls, to play basketball, watching their heroes from the WNBA as well as the NBA.

warriors rebrand

Golden State Warriors Rebrand

Year: 2019 Agency: N/A

The Golden State Warriors, love them or hate them, are now one of the biggest names in american sports, and over the last few years have rolled into championships for fun. But they haven’t only got recent history, they have been in California since the 60’s, from San Francisco to Oakland or the “Bay Area”. For most fans, they are also seen as some of the best years of the franchise.

Before we run though the most recent rebrand, I think it’s worth quickly running through the rebrand of 2010 as it leads onto some of the reasoning behind the rebrand from 2019.

In 2010, they wanted to recapture the golden years and go back to the sunshine yellow and blue from the 60s and 70s.

So they went through the process of rebranding, but unfortunately for them, from a design perspective, it was not a successful rebrand.

They brought back the circular emblem which is a great throwback to some of the old logos but unfortunately that’s where the great ends in terms of design. The inner circle is off centre and the bridge graphic is untidy and angled, which doesn’t help with the off centre inner circle. The Copperplate Gothic typography has rough kerning and sizing at best, and doesn’t reflect the character of some of the old logos and the typography they used.

Overall the rebrand wasn’t great, and furthermore, it is now ingrained in history, because of the multiple championships the Warriors won whilst sporting this brand.

This brings us onto the rebrand of 2019. Knowing what you know now, it isn’t so much a rebrand, more of a tidy up.

The inner circle has been centralised, and the bridge graphic is a more accurate depiction of the Bay Bridge while also being straightened slightly so the whole composition looks more balanced.

Along with the obvious logo mark changes, the typography has been updated, which is now a custom font which looks so much nicer than the Copperplate Gothic did in the old logo. Along with the main logo, they also have “the bay” logo, which brings in more character in the typography, similar to their old logos from the 60s and 70s. My one gripe with this logo is the use of rounded corners, which is contrasting to the straight edged bridge illustration from the main logo.

This was a much needed tidy up and it’s slightly amazing that it has taken them nearly 10 years to do it. The flaws were so obvious in the old logo. This rebrand has come in tandem with the Warriors moving back into San Francisco from Oakland. It shows how when you are an NBA team, there are a lot of other things going on other than just your rebrand needs!

liberty rebrand side by side

New York Liberty Rebrand

Year: 2020 Agency: N/A

Earlier this year (2020) the New York Liberty rebranded to coincide with their new home being the Barclays centre, sharing with the Brooklyn Nets.

Once you look at this new logo next to the old logo, you begin to realise how much has changed and how much was wrong with the old logo. Furthermore, you realise that the old logo had actually been around since 1997 when the team was created, so you can forgive it for having a few odd elements.

The main thing to notice is that the old logo is busy to say the least, with multiple colours, styles and graphic elements. The new logo has been tidied up significantly, with less colours and a more symmetrical shape rather than the angled liberty statue coming out of the shield.

The full statue of liberty has been replaced with just the hand, torch and flame, and this has come together much better that the old logo, although it still looks a little odd and awkward.

Along with this, they have moved the full word mark outside the shield and it has been replaced with a simple NY, which is a nice way to show “new york” in an internationally recognised fashion.

The wordmark outside the shield is not totally for me, I like the san serif “New York”, but the slab Liberty just has too many angles. I have mentioned this before in this post with a few examples. There seems to be a tendency to add lots of angles, where I am not sure they need it. The slab fonts work really well in sports, but adding more elements and quirks always looks like they are trying too hard.

Ditching the orange and blue out of the colour palette, then really leaning on the statue of liberty green really works in the Liberty’s favour. Losing the orange and blue takes away the link to the NBA team the Knicks and allows the Liberty Green to bring and build its own identity. Although the black and white creates a new link to the Brooklyn Nets alongside being in the same arena now, the main use of black and white is to make a more socially focussed statement, showing that we can all be brought together through sport and a city.

Although it is not by any means the perfect rebrand. It is a major step forward and a much needed one with the brand not being touched since the team’s beginning. They have cut ties to the NBA’s New York Knicks and are building a style that emphasises their own identity and personality.

The odd flaming basketball and the over treated slab font are elements that are in my eyes in need of attention most.

Conclusion – The Complete History of Rebranding in Basketball

With plenty of examples and probably plenty to come, the above shows how multiple factors can contribute to a basketball team, and probably most sports teams, rebranding. From fan pressure, to new owners, from trends to tired looks.

One thing I did notice is that in recent years, Rare Design seems to have a hold on rebranding NBA teams, doing multiple in a short period of time, alongside a host of other sports teams.

Now this has its pros and cons, a con being maybe you end up having a very similar brand style for each different team, and does that suck any personality out of each team’s branding.

A pro is that obviously these teams are happy with them and the agency itself has become somewhat of an expert in rebranding basketball teams.

If you’re a basketball fan, and want to have a go at our twist on a dream team builder, why not play along with our ‘build an all star marketing team’ game?

As mentioned, we will be updating this post as new rebrands come in. If you are looking for help with your team branding but aren’t quite NBA or WNBA status, don’t worry, we would love to have a chat and help you as best we can.