Giving the NBA logo a makeover to honor Kobe Bryant will only give rise to more problems than actual solutions

By Stan Sy | Photo by Keith Allison via Wikimedia | Art by Tricia Guevara

In the days since the world found out about the tragedy that took the lives of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, as well as seven others, the entire basketball community has come together for tributes of all shapes and sizes. Several of them have gone viral, including the beautiful mural at the court of The Tenement housing complex in Taguig, here in the Philippines. Another one that’s gotten a lot of traction is a petition to change the NBA logo to honor the late Lakers legend.

The petition, which was started by Change.org user Nick M. of Vancouver, Canada, seeks to “immortalize him forever as the new NBA logo.” It has since been signed by more than two million signatures, making it the fastest-growing campaign on the platform, according to Change.org’s managing director, Michael Jones. Celebrities like Snoop Dogg and Justin Bieber have even gone on to endorse the campaign on their respective Instagram feeds.

While the virality of the petition says a lot about how much Kobe’s death has affected the world, the act of changing the NBA logo is something that can’t just be done willy-nilly. Yes, it would be a moving tribute to arguably one of the ten greatest players of all-time. But it’s a problematic course of action born out of impulse and emotion.

Let’s start with the logic behind it. Nick M. identifies himself as a “16-year-old kid who had just lost his role model and hero.” He started the petition to cope with and mourn Kobe’s passing. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what happens when Michael Jordan passes away? Jordan is widely considered the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) by fans, media, and players alike. Will the NBA have to change its logo to Jordan’s silhouette, too, if and when that time comes?

And why Kobe in particular? Yes, he was a five-time NBA Champion and is fourth in all-time scoring. But Bill Russell won 11 NBA titles in his 13 seasons as the anchor of his Celtics dynasty, still considered the greatest of its kind in basketball history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is still the all-time leader in points scored. Will they be in contention, too, as the new silhouettes of an NBA logo when they eventually pass away? If the rebuttal to this is that Russell’s generation is long gone and that Kareem didn’t resonate with fans the way Kobe did, then let’s bring it back to Michael.

Peak Jordan coincided with the boom of basketball as a global sport. He led that epic Dream Team in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics to a gold medal, destroying the field en route to the podium. Jordan successfully went on two three-peats in the ’90s as the sole alpha of his Chicago Bulls. His superstardom and brand transcended basketball to the point that people still want a sequel to “Space Jam,” even though that movie is old enough to be a fully-functioning adult with a credit card. The Jordan Brand is its own entity under the Nike umbrella because of how popular and lucrative his sneaker line had become over the decades.

The grief that comes with Kobe’s passing is totally understandable and nobody can invalidate it at all. No one is in any position to tell anyone how to mourn the loss of one’s hero or idol either. But while the heart is worth listening to, the head might actually point out several loopholes that could expose its demands as infeasible, impractical, and downright illogical.

This leads us to the bigger discussion about branding. The NBA logo has used the silhouette of another Laker legend, Jerry West, since 1969, while the tri-color scheme we’ve all come to know has been around since 1971. It’s a logo that is instantly recognizable anywhere around the world. Aesthetically speaking, it’s also a damn good logo with a timeless design. There’s a reason why it hasn’t been changed outside of a few minor updates to its font size in 2017. It’s fine the way it is and there is no need to change the logo.

There’s also a deeper, more systemic reason behind it. In a story on Logo Design Love about the history of the current NBA logo, Siegel+Gale founder Alan Siegel, its designer, was quoted as saying that the NBA “wants to institutionalize it rather than individualize it.” He added, “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.”

It’s also going to be problematic if that one player happened to be one with a checkered past like Kobe’s. Let’s call a spade a spade: openly feuding with your superstar partner, elbowing a teammate in the chest in practice—practice!!!—because you think winning isn’t as important to him, using a homophobic slur, and calling your younger teammates “as soft as Charmin” aren’t the best examples of being the perfect teammate or player. 

And, no, we’re not going to conveniently forget his sexual assault trial in 2004. That shouldn’t be buried in the past because that invalidates what his survivor had to go through both at the time when she was publicly outed and humiliated and right now when all these Kobe tributes are coming out in the wake of his passing. He was able to settle out of court because he was what he was: a rich, powerful superstar athlete. Calling for that dark part in Kobe’s past to be buried also reeks of the privilege of not having gone through sexual assault, a luxury Kobe’s survivor did not have. Kobe wasn’t perfect. He was no saint. He was flawed and complicated like all of us because he was human, too.

Moreover, to suddenly replace it after five decades is an irresponsible move for a brand because everyone will have to adjust to a new logo. It goes against the NBA’s corporate direction when it comes to their branding. It may not sound like a big deal right now, but a revamped logo is a hell of a game-changer. In many ways, it’s like rebranding your company or organization.

If everyone wanted to honor Kobe in this manner in the first place, why hadn’t the logo been changed into his silhouette right after he retired? Why does it have to come now that he’s passed away? It’s because changing the logo of the NBA is easier said than done. It’s not like one NBA franchise deciding to update its logo to keep with the times or to reflect the new organizational direction or branding. There are way more stakeholders involved in a decision like this, so it’s not something one can demand out of an emotional time.

The grief that comes with Kobe’s passing is totally understandable and nobody can invalidate it at all. No one is in any position to tell anyone how to mourn the loss of one’s hero or idol either. But while the heart is worth listening to, the head might actually point out several loopholes that could expose its demands as infeasible, impractical, and downright illogical. 

There are many other fitting ways to honor the late great Kobe Bryant. Changing the NBA logo and opening another can of worms in the process is not one of them.

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