A team's logo is much more than just an image. It is a symbol which can unify a team and the fans, intimidate opponents and even come to represent the way in which a team plays. Playing such an important role for the players, the franchise, the fans and even the city the team hails from, it is important that these logos can be displayed proudly at centre court, on the uniform, on merchandise, promotional materials and everywhere else that you see NBA logos. Unfortunately many modern day logos lack character, are over-designed, are not intimidating or are simply boring. A look back through the history books and you will see that there have been a number of fantastic old school logos, and many of the cornerstone franchises such as the Bulls, Lakers, Celtics and Knicks have stuck with these logos (aside from a few minor changes to keep them fresh) because they have become iconic and it would be wrong to change them.
Throughout each era in the NBA there have been a number of different logo designs for teams as they look to rebrand every now and then, which means many excellent logos have been cast aside. The 90’s was what many would consider the golden era for NBA logos and kits, and many teams opted for cartoonish logos using intimidating but entertaining looking characters with bold color schemes. This cartoonish element would often juxtapose the hard nosed basketball that was being played on the court, and it was a large part of what makes 90’s basketball so instantly recognizable. Many NBA fans dismissed these logos and color schemes as too brash and garish (and in some cases this was true), but I find that many of these logos added charm and personality to franchises, which has now been lost with modern day designs which often have no references to their team name or what the city is famous for.
It was the turn of the millennium when teams moved to the kind of logos that we see nowadays, so this article will focus on logos that were designed pre 2000 and what most people would now consider to be retro.
Here are the top 10 old school NBA logos.
10 Miami Heat (1988–99)
This classic design is very similar to their current logo, except the colors have been changed presumably to keep it fresh. The new colors lack the fiery orange of the original logo, which also contained white lines which shape the basketball. These lines are contrasted by the black hoop, adding an extra dimension which the new logo lacks. The flaming ball going through the hoop perfectly combines the team identity, the sport and the red hot city. It is a simple design but uses color well and is in tune with the franchises image.
9 Milwaukee Bucks (1968-93)
It may not be the most intimidating logo of all time, but a quick glance at the era in which this logo first made an appearance and you will notice that logos generally contained friendlier looking characters than what we have become accustomed to. This logo features a buck seated on the team name, proudly spinning a basketball and wearing a top with the team’s green and a white B on it. This old school logo is a classic and perfectly represents the style at the time. It is interesting to compare this logo with later logos which contain a character or animal, as it seems that the design style changes along with each era in the NBA.
8 Houston Rockets (1995-03)
The old Rockets logo and pin-striped kit polarizes many NBA fans, and it certainly was a unique look they opted for during the mid 90’s. The cartoon rocket with a fierce face that is orbiting a basketball is in tune with the other cartoonish logos of the time, and it is also fitting with the name of the team and the city of Houston. The current Rockets logo is one of the blandest in the NBA and barely has any resemblance to a rocket, which is a shame as there is so much that can be done with the team name. The logo would look highly out of place in today’s game, but during the 90’s it was right up there with many of the other franchises that opted for a similar style and it was clear which city they came from.
7 Denver Nuggets (1981-93)
Regular readers may be quick to point out that the Nuggets kit with a similar logo was included in the Ugliest Jerseys in NBA History article, but as a standalone logo this is one of the better and more unique designs we have seen. As it is a colorful design it should not have been added to an already colorful jersey which had a poor layout. The logo is contained within half a circle with Denver Nuggets written beneath, with colorful stripes at the top behind white mountains. The Denver skyline is then in front of the mountains, built up of colorful blocks similar to the stripes at the top. It is a colourful and fun design, and also fitting with the location of the team with the mountains and skyline.
6 Vancouver Grizzlies (1995-01)
Back when the Grizzlies played their basketball in Canada they had a terrific identity which carried over with their move to Memphis. They have since updated their logo to a sleeker, simple design which is still better than the majority of modern day logos. The retro Vancouver logo features a snarling grizzly bear with sharp claws holding a basketball in one of its paws. The brown and black bear is contrasted by teal text just above the bear with the team name, with white claw marks marking the text too. A fierce but appealing logo with a touch of teal, this epitomizes 90’s basketball.
5 Seattle Supersonics (1975-95)
The Seattle Supersonics are sorely missed by many NBA fans, as this is a city with a huge fanbase and it was a classic franchise that won an NBA championship and had a number of notable players on their roster throughout their time in the league. They also had a fantastic color scheme of green and yellow, making them instantly recognizable. The excellent logo they had from 1975 right through to 1995 featured the Seattle skyline in green in front of half a yellow basketball, with 'Seattle Supersonics' written beneath the image. The coloring along with the iconic Space Needle in the skyline made this a classic NBA logo, and hopefully one day we will see the Supersonics back in the NBA, along with a similar logo.
4 Toronto Raptors (1995-present)
It will not be long until the dribbling dinosaur faces extinction, as the Raptors have followed in the path of most NBA teams and gone for a more modern look for their primary logo. The new look logo still nods to the team name as it has dinosaur claw marks on a basketball, but the dribbling dinosaur will be missed by many Toronto fans and fans of the NBA. Much like the other logos of the same period, it combined a humorous yet still imposing cartoon element along with a bold colour scheme, adding a lot of character and charm to the Raptors franchise.
3 San Francisco Warriors (1969-71)
This simple but effective design provides a nod to the location of the franchise, with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in blue on a yellow circle. The bridge only takes up the bottom part of the yellow circle, giving it a unique, spaced look. To keep the logo balanced it has ‘The City” written in blue above the circle, topping off a simple yet stylish look that the San Francisco Warriors adopted before becoming the Golden State Warriors. They have now reverted back to this color scheme and style, with the current logo nodding to their past with a section of the bridge in yellow within a blue circle. Unfortunately Golden State is guilty of wearing the awful sleeved jerseys, which partially ruins the logo and color scheme, but the San Francisco Warriors made no such mistake.
2 Charlotte Hornets (1988-02)
It has been a bit of an identity crisis for Charlotte, who had to spend a few seasons as the Bobcats after their Hornets franchise moved to New Orleans. The Bobcats severely lacked style, but Charlotte now has their much loved team name back after New Orleans took on the identity of the Pelicans. They have now returned to the colorful and loud teal and purple colour scheme that made them so famous during the 90’s.
The current logo and their home court (brilliantly named “The Hive”) nod to the old school Hornets style, but they have opted for a slightly more modern look with their logo. The old logo featured a teal and purple hornet with white basketball sneakers on dribbling a basketball (noticing a trend here?). Again, cartoonish yet slightly intimidating and bold, this was a classic look for a team which has now fortunately gone back to its roots.
1 Chicago Bulls (1966-present)
This is one of the most widely recognized logos around the world and also one that has not been changed. It is hard to imagine Chicago ever changing the logo as it has become so iconic, and although this is partially due to Jordan’s legacy, it is still a brilliantly designed logo with a great color scheme. It is tough and intimidating, and has come to represent the style of basketball which Chicago has been famous for over the years. As well as the fierce scowl, the red tipped horns suggest that the Bull has already been in battle and claimed a victim. The Bull also has a cartoonish quality, which made it right at home during the 90’s where many of the logos on this list came from.
The Bulls logo contains all the qualities that a good logo should have, and being the logo for one of the more successful teams it also means that it is one which is widely recognised and supported around the world.