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Where does the NBA logo come from? Story behind the design

The ubiquitous NBA logo is as iconic as the league itself. Its design has been around for more than 50 years, and some believe it’s time for an upgrade.

Update:
The ubiquitous NBA logo is as iconic as the league itself. Its design is more than 50 years old, and some believe it’s time for an upgrade.
Trevor Ruszkowski

The NBA logo featuring the silhouette of a player dribbling a ball has been associated with the league for more than five decades. With all the changes the organization has gone through since then, some quarters believe the logo should be updated to keep up with the changing times.

In 1969, NBA commissioner Walter Kennedy wanted a fresh look for the league, and he hired Alan Siegel a brand image consultant, to design its new symbol.

Building the NBA brand

Kennedy required it to be similar to the MLB logo which had been designed the previous year, with the colors red, white, and blue, and the silhouette of a player.

A symbol for the NBA would also set them apart from the American Basketball Association, which was recently founded at that time.

“Commissioner Kennedy wanted a logo that had a family relationship with Major League Baseball, because the NBA was having a lot of trouble with their reputation at that time and wanted to uplift the image,” Siegel told NBA.com.

Other NBA stories:

Inspired by Jerry West's form

Siegel came across one particular image of Los Angeles Lakers legend Jerry West in the photo files of Sport Magazine, and it served as the inspiration for the symbol, communicating both grace and movement.

“I liked the picture because it was a nice vertical and had this motion to it. I was a fan of his and he was one of those people who had an important history in the NBA. But in designing the logo, I never mentioned it was based on a picture of him. It was just discovered years later,” said Siegel.

West, known as “Mr. Clutch”, eventually came to be known as “The Logo” because of this association. Though he is flattered by idea that he was the trademark’s inspiration, he is embarrassed by it as well.

West's mixed feelings about the logo

I wish that it had never gotten out that I’m the logo, I really do,” West told ESPN’s The Jump.

“I’ve said it more than once, and it’s flattering if that’s me- and I know it is me- but it is flattering… If I were the NBA, I would be embarrassed about it,” according to the 14-time NBA All-Star.

“If they would want to change it, I wish they would. In many ways, I wish they would,” he added.

Although the symbol is easily recognized, the NBA has never officially acknowledged that it is West.

Time for a change?

There has been a push recently to change the logo to be more representative of the NBA’s current composition. According to Statista, in 2020, almost 75% of NBA players were African-American.

In the wake of Kobe Bryant’s death in 2020, it was suggested that the Black Mamba's likeness be used in a new design. Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving took to Instagram to support this idea.

However, the current logo has been identified with the NBA for half a century and there would be legal and financial implications should it be changed. It would be no small feat after all, to change the design in the league’s merchandise, which brings in more than a billion dollars each year.

It seems that Jerry West will have to live with being “The Logo”, at least for the foreseeable future.

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