The story of the NBA logo

NBA logo on wood

It was 1969. The National Basketball Association was locked in a bitter battle against its upstart rival, the American Basketball Association. At stake: fans, players, media — and millions of dollars.

The NBA turned to Alan Siegel, founder of Siegel+Gale.

Seeking inspiration, Siegel pored through the photo archives of Sport magazine. A particular photo of the All-Star Jerry West grabbed his attention: It was dynamic, it was vertical, it captured the essence of the game.

Jerry West NBA logo photo
Jerry West photo by the late Wen Roberts

NBA logo

The NBA is reluctant to acknowledge that it’s Jerry West in the logo, and Siegel, a lifelong basketball fan, believes he knows why.

“They want to institutionalize it rather than individualize it. It’s become such a ubiquitous, classic symbol and focal point of their identity and their licensing program that they don’t necessarily want to identify it with one player.”

NBA Commissioner David Stern, through a spokesman, declines to comment, saying he doesn’t know whether West is on the logo.

“There’s no record of it here,” spokesman Tim Frank says.

Today, this classic image generates $3 billion a year in licensing, and the NBA name symbolizes the pinnacle of excellence in professional basketball.

That’s the brief version. Read more on the Siegel+Gale and LA Times websites.

More iconic designs in Logo Design Love’s classic category.

Featured image via Michael Tipton.

18 responses

  1. No, sorry that logo’s dated and does nothing for me. Maybe because it’s not something I was brought up with but looking at it with ‘fresh’ eyes it’s derivative and very boring.

  2. Er–if the NBA logo is derived from a photo of Jerry West, doesn’t the NBA owe a little $omething to photographer Wen Roberts and to Mr. West?

    No wonder NBA spokesman Tim Frank says there’s no record at HQ.

  3. I love the fact that the logo was created in 1969 and it still stands just as strong over 40 years later. Why would you even slightly change it when it brings in that much money!!

  4. For a logo to last 40 years (so far) and become such a classic icon, just goes to show that it doesn’t need to change. I strongly disagree with it being boring, the logo captures basketball and one of the most easily recognisable logos in the world to date.

  5. Jerry west is my great uncle. Though I’ve never met him, from what I’ve read he deserves that logo. It doesn’t need to change and it does capture basketball.

  6. I know it sounds pretty ignorant but since I couldn’t remember I assumed this was the silhouette of Michael Jordan. How very womanly of me, right? Imagine my embarrassment and reluctance to accept the truth. :)

  7. @nathan, you would be right except for one very big detail — you missed Bob Cousy was a righty and couldn’t dribble with his left. It’s West, and it was confirmed by the person who created the damn thing. That is who the quote up above came from.

  8. I am a tennis fan. The ATP (pro tennis governing body) had a similar logo for most of the 1980s. It portrayed the server in motion though “who” it was was not discernible. It was every bit as fluid, vertical and elegant as this Jerry West logo. Since then, they’ve screwed it up by having two replacement logos in the past 20yrs or so. Neither was as striking and effective as the original ATP logo, and that was inspired by the NBA one. This is a masterpiece of sports branding that should never be changed.

  9. I remember watching TV and when the games would come on the picture of Jerry West would convert to the NBA logo. It is a great logo but so is the Michael Jordan one. Give Mr West his props.

  10. I think they need to change the shorts because no one wears ‘short’ shorts anymore.

  11. This logo has one graphic design “no-no” – either place it on the edge or get it away from the edge. The bent arm is too close to the edge. It draws attention to it.

  12. I don’t understand how the designers themselves can say that it “IS” Jerry West. I mean clearly the image is not an exact replica. I understand saying the image was inspiration since it was the only one they found that they drew from, but there are several notable differences between the two images therefore you can’t really say the NBA logo IS Jerry West because the NBA logo is not the position West was captured in. Moreover, I’m pretty sure West is not the only basketball player in history to have dribbled in such a position. I wish I could upload photos as part of my comment because in high school game the local paper captured me in a similar position on a drive to the basket. While the image served as inspiration, the logo is really emblematic of thousands of players, not West himself.

  13. The logo is obviously Dolph Schayes and look how he lost his arm, coincidence? I think not. They would only change the logo to avoid paying the Schayes family royalties. That would put the Schayes over. And that would be a BIG problem. Think I’m joking? I’m not.

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