For a sport that’s often at the forefront of everything from social and cultural issues to biosecurity measures, the NBA’s logo is surprisingly out of date.
The current iteration — the silhouette of a man dribbling a basketball, splitting red and blue sides of a rectangle — was introduced way back in 1969.
Between the short shorts and the upright stance, it doesn’t really look like any current player, but the antiquated nature of the logo extends all the way down to the whiteness of the man who inspired the design.
The silhouette was modelled off the dribbling technique of hall of famer Jerry West, who became “The Logo” while he was still playing.
The 14-year veteran played in the All Star Game every season in the NBA and made 12 end-of-season All NBA teams.
He has a championship, a scoring title, an assist title, a Finals MVP (in a losing team) and five all-defensive nods.
Since retiring as a player, he has become one of the greatest executives the game has seen, with his teams winning eight championships from 1980 to 2017.
West is undeniably a legend of the league and the sport.
But there is a reason the man known as Mr Clutch, for his tendency to knock down shots in the biggest moments, only had one NBA title from 14 seasons as a player: Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics.
The Celtics were the first NBA team to draft a black player (Chuck Cooper in 1950), the first to have an all-black starting five (in 1964), and the first team to be coached by a black man (Russell as captain-coach in 1966).
Since those Celtics teams won 11 titles in 12 years through the 1950s and 60s, the NBA has become a more and more culturally diverse league, but the dominance and influence of black and African American athletes has been a constant.
So it was hard to argue last week when Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving reignited the debate, saying the logo should be changed because “black kings built the league”.
He posted that message alongside a hypothetical logo with LA Lakers legend Kobe Bryant in place of West.
“Gotta Happen, [I don’t care] what anyone says,” Irving wrote on February 24 — 2 and 24 being the numbers worn by Gianna and Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January last year.
Having studied at the feet of Bryant, Irving said he wanted to be part of the generation that made this major change.
“It’s just a refresher that this is the guy for us, he’s the guy for me. He’s my mentor more than just an inspiration. I took a lot of knowledge and wisdom from that guy,” he told reporters.
“He’s always around me and Gigi’s always around me. We want to set a standard and precedent [that] this is excellence: Kobe Bryant. Logo. Yes.
But Irving is just the latest and loudest voice calling for the change.
The post was praised by past and present NBA players like LaMelo Ball, Trae Young and Stephen Jackson.
The mock-up used in the Instagram post was created by designer Tyson Beck shortly after Bryant’s death and used at the top of a Change.org petition that has attracted more than 3 million signatures.
But is he the right choice?
While the shocking and tragic circumstances of Bryant’s death sparked the petition, and Irving and other players’ affinity for the five-time champion has fuelled their push for the former superstar to become an official icon, any actual update will surely only come at the end of a long process.
Of course the league, which is so conscious of its public image, may be reluctant to tie itself completely and forever to Bryant, who was accused of sexual assault before having the charges dismissed in 2004.
And even sticking to the sport itself, if we’re talking about black players who “built the league”, Bryant is not a lay-down misère despite his worldwide appeal and considerable accomplishments.
Russell was probably the first, with his 11 titles still a record more than 50 years after his retirement. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has more points than anyone over his storied career and his famed “sky hook” could make for an iconic and instantly recognisable image. Magic Johnson’s rivalry with Larry Bird reinvigorated interest in the NBA through the 1980s. And LeBron James has basically personified the NBA experience for 20 years and is a squeaky clean global ambassador for the brand and the sport.
But the greatest player of all time, six-time champion Michael Jordan is the other most likely option, as ESPN analyst Stephen A Smith spoke about this week.
“I agree that the NBA logo should be changed. But it should be changed to the GOAT, the one and only Michael Jordan,” he said.
“Considering everything Michael Jordan has meant for the league, considering the global iconic figure he still is today, Michael Jordan still hasn’t been eclipsed, not even by Kobe, not even by LeBron James. I’ve been saying that Jordan be the logo for years.
“The greatest honour in basketball for the greatest player of all time. We love Kobe, we miss Kobe, Kobe’s one of the greatest ever, no doubt. [But] MJ, with where he took the NBA, really adding to what Larry Bird and Magic Johnson started. The NBA wouldn’t be the global iconic brand it is today if it were not for MJ.”
The one mark against Jordan is perhaps a point that Smith made in trying to argue his case: His Airness is already an iconic logo.
Everyone knows the Jumpman logo from Jordan Brand, which is on a number of NBA jerseys already, and trying to create a discernibly different silhouette style image of the same player would be an almighty marketing challenge.
Whatever happens, West is on record as being keen to see it changed.
“It’s flattering but if I were the NBA I would be embarrassed about it,” he said in 2017 of his place as the current logo.
He even had an outside-the-box suggestion for who could replace him.
“Maybe they could put the commissioner on there. Adam Silver would look great,” West said.
Commissioner Silver has been eager to bring the sport to the cutting edge in many ways since taking over from the late David Stern in 2014, but that might not strike the right tone.