The NBA, or National Basketball Association, started in 1946 under the name The Basketball Association of America. A group of businessmen decided to start a league consisting of teams from across the United States and Canada. At the time however they had to compete with other organizations and find a way to make their organization America’s basketball league.
Originally, there were three different leagues for people who wanted to play professional basketball. The Basketball Association of America had to compete with the National Basketball League, the NBL, and the American basketball league, the ABL. It was challenging for fans of professional basketball to decide where their loyalties were. Americans didn’t yet have one perfect league where they could all come together and watch competing teams under the same umbrella.
But times changed and when the 3 leagues merged together to give Americans a single, premier location to find professional basketball, the new logo became the foundation for that change.
When was it first made?
The NBA logo that we know today was introduced in 1969 after the merger of the multiple basketball associations. However, the NBA was actually started in 1950 at which point the original National Basketball Association emblem was created.
Who was involved in creating the NBA logo?
The second iteration of the NBA logo was created by Alan Siegel, a brand consultant who put together the layout we know today in 1969. This image features a silhouette of the LA Lakers team member, Jerry West. Jerry West was not only one of the most successful players in the history of the NBA, but he continued his career by coaching after his retirement.
The image was an actual photo of Jerry West as he was playing, but it was Siegel who converted it to a silhouette and revealed the iconic image that perfectly captured the movement of the athletes. Before designing this logo Alan Siegel looked through old editions of sports magazines until he found pictures of basketball players that he thought best represented the fluid nature of the game.
In addition to the image, the second logo focused on patriotism by integrating the red, white, and blue colors. In fact, it was this choice that helped establish the NBA as the American basketball league in the eyes of fans.
Related: How to trademark a logo
How often was the design changed?
There were five distinct phases where the NBA design was changed but there was only one change to the current and most popular logo.
The National Basketball Association created their first logo in 1950. This logo featured an antiquated basketball which was a white circle with the current year printed at the top and the words National Basketball Association printed in the center. Basketball was printed straight across the middle of the ball while the other two words were arched along what looks very similar to baseball stitches. The coloring for the letters was red.
Moving away from what looked very much like a baseball, the NBA decided to use an actual basketball. This time the ball was at a diagonal angle and instead of having all of the words printed it had just the three letters in white straight across the middle of the red basketball.
For a short while the design reverted to the white basketball but this time there were four stitches present in black instead of two stitches in red so it didn’t quite have the same baseball steel to it. This also used the three letters for the NBA but placed at a diagonal from the top left corner going down to the bottom right corner.
In 1969 you get the trademark we know today designed by Alan Siegel. This iconic vertical logo featured a rectangle with rounded corners, blue on the left and red embodying the perfect body movements and fluidity of the fast-paced game. In the bottom left corner in white were printed the three letters, NBA.
This final change did very little to the iconic trademark logo other than change the font for the three letters.
Trouble in NBA Paradise
In spite of the iconic logo change in 1969, the NBA struggled immediately thereafter with low ratings, low attendance, and a lot of criminal scandals particularly having to do with drugs. However, this logo continued to function as the backbone of the NBA while helping the careers of such Superstars as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant. It was names like these that kept people interested.
When was the most recent change made?
The most recent change took place in 2017 but this did very little to alter the iconic NBA logo fans have grown to appreciate. The coloring of the red, white and blue continued to symbolize the patriotism of the league and the silhouette image of Jerry Lewis was also the main feature. The only thing that changed was the lettering of the logo for the NBA which now had narrower shapes for all three letters with a different type face. This change effectively brought the eye to focus on the silhouette of Jerry Lewis rather than the three initials of the organization.
Common trends / biggest changes
Clearly the history of the NBA logo had a big challenge around the end of the 1960s when all the varying organizations merged together and the organization needed to combat its poor image in the public’s eye. It did this quite successfully with the iconic image we continue to appreciate today and helped to bring every basketball fan, millions of people from around the nation together under one logo.
The common threads seen throughout all of these images include the colors with the combination of red, white, and blue or the monochromatic versions for newspaper production. In each of these logos a basketball is featured to some degree or another but the stark change of 1969 did away with the basketball as the main feature of the logo, replacing it with the athletes who represent the sport.