The History of the NBA and their Iconic Logo Design

The NBA Logo and the History Behind the Design

The NBA, the highest level of competition for United States basketball stars outside of the Olympics, joins the NFL and MLB as one of the three most influential sports organizations in the country. It’s an organization with a rich history that is filled with inspiring stories of success, and since 1969, this elite organization has been represented by the now iconic image of a basketball player set against a red and blue background. To understand how this logo came to be, we’ll take a look at the history of the NBA, the origins of their logo, and the success that it has brought them.

History of the NBA

The Basketball Association of America—the entity that would later become the NBA—was first founded in June of 1946 by a group of businessmen who owned several major ice hockey arenas in the Northern United States and Canada. At the time, the league’s competition consisted of the American Basketball League (ABL) and the National Basketball League (NBL) though it would be the NBA’s later competition with an upstart league known as the American Basketball Association that would drive the creation of the NBA logo we now have today.

After a period of competition between the three leagues, the BAA took in the NBL in a merger that formed the league we now know as the NBA. Since then, the NBA has showcased superstars such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, and countless other names that would go on to cement the league into international popularity. Though the NBA wasn’t without its trials (poor ratings, low attendance, and drug scandals threatened to derail the league in the late 70s) it was superstars such as these that kept the NBA in the spotlight and eventually surged its ratings into the stratosphere.

Today, the NBA consists of 30 teams, 29 from the US and one from Canada, and continues to be one of the most lucrative sports leagues in the world. Last year, game seven of the NBA championship between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors drew 30.8 million viewers, coming close to rivaling the popularity of the CFP Championship, March Madness, and even the Superbowl.

With such enormous success, it’s hard to imagine the NBA struggling to market itself to fans and ratify its position as the only professional basketball league of significance, but it wasn’t long ago that the NBA found itself having to do just that. Out of the fires of this competition, however, was born the NBA logo.

History of the NBA Logo


The NBA logo was designed in 1969 by Alan Siegel, founder of the branding firm Siegel+Gale. At the time, the NBA was facing fierce competition from a recently-founded rival known as the American Basketball Association. As history would show, Americans at the time (and from then forward) didn’t seem to have the space in their fandom for more than one premier professional sports league for each sport. In the competition between the NBA and the ABA, one of them was going to get left behind, and part of the burden of ensuring it was the NBA that reigned victorious fell on the shoulders of Siegel.

Before designing the new logo, Siegel scoured through old editions of Sport magazine in search of inspiration. He eventually found a photo of basketball superstar Jerry West. In a single frame, this photo seemed to capture the fluid, fast-paced nature of the game. Using this photo, Siegel created a solid white silhouette of Jerry West and placed it against a red and blue background, forming the logo we still see today.

The logo was a big success, as was the NBA’s attempts at rebranding. Both would go on to survive their bitter battle against the ABA and come out on top, giving us all of the rich history, unforgettable moments, and legendary names we now have today.

Design Elements of the NBA Logo

The photo of Jerry West that inspired the NBA logo caught Siegel’s trained eye for good reason. Even when reduced to a silhouette it seems to glide across the page. It’s a dynamic image that accurately captures the nature of the sport.

The color scheme of the logo (red, white, and blue) appeals to the patriotism of the NBA’s viewers and helped to establish the league as America’s choice for professional basketball.

Lastly, in choosing one of the league’s superstars as inspiration for the logo, Siegel was able to highlight what truly sets the NBA apart. Arguably even more so than other sports, the NBA has long been propelled to success by the popularity of a handful of truly spectacular players. Choosing to showcase one of these players in the design of their logo was a wise decision and an essential design element of the NBA logo.

Popularity of the NBA Logo

Though it’s original purpose of rebranding the NBA may have been served long ago, the NBA logo still remains incredibly popular. It can be seen on a vast variety of merchandise, from clothing and apparel to posters and decorations and everything in-between. In this way, the popularity of the NBA’s logo continues to earn the league immense amounts of money in merchandise sales.

This aspect of a logo’s potential is oft overlooked during its initial creation, but it is still an incredibly important factor to consider; design a logo that is appealing enough and it may just pay for itself many times over in merchandise sales alone. While your brand may not sell as many t-shirts as the NBA, having a great-looking logo that you can put to use on your products never hurts, especially if you own a brand that people would be proud to display.

Whether you are drawing inspiration from the NBA logo or are simply interested in its history, this logo is certainly worthy of attention. It’s an effective design that has stood the test of time, continuing to represent one of the most popular sports leagues in the world today.

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