The NBA has mastered the art of branding and merchandising. They have marketing campaigns that range from NBA Fit branded bags of oranges, apples and cheese slices, to NBA licensed socks, underwear and even toilet seats!
A license is a way for an entity, such as the NBA, to make money from commerce or recreation that it otherwise would have not made itself. In the case of NBA merchandising, copyright laws prohibit the use of certain images without a license. For example, if a company or person was printing t-shirts with the Bulls logo, and selling them without a license, the NBA could could then sue them for copyright infringement.
Free-market discussion aside; the key to good marketing campaigns is having cool logos. Sometimes, though, it seems like franchises deliberately use the opposite tact, and design a logo that is shamelessly ugly.
The niche-market of nostalgia NBA apparel is growing along with overall league revenue. Their Christmas sweaters show that the NBA isn't afraid of embracing the: "It's so ugly it's cute" mantra, while there are a plethora of money-making opportunities if they just look at some of their team's past logos.
Most people can think of a few team logos that are knee slappers, or head scratchers, or face palmers, or rib ticklers, or...
Maybe with the right campaign, the league could revive some of their visually debilitating logos and get a few teams to wear the hideous color combos in game. Imagine if they got LeBron or Curry to rock apparel from a "Vintage and Offensive Collection"? Anything can be made cool if presented the right way.
The NBA is free to use this list of the 15 worst logos as a jumping-off point if they'd like to start a "Why Was This Made?!" marketing campaign.
15 2000/01-2012/13 Phoenix Suns Alternate
We'll tip with the Suns, and their weird, elongated alternate logo.
They literally took their normal logo, stretched the ball out, turned it 25 degrees, then slapped an oval behind it and called it good. They tweaked their logo in something similar to Microsoft Paint, and felt they could sneak it by everybody.
Hey, merchandising is a tough game, and that alternate logo is a good revenue source! This was the Steve Nash and Mike D'Antoni run'n gun era. Perhaps they were trying to show the ball going so fast that it shifted space-time and it just looks oblong. Or maybe it just sucks.
14 Los Angeles Clippers Alternate
The Clippers needed a new logo more than any team in recent memory. The Donald Sterling era garb and designs were an ever-present reminder of the entire fiasco in the 2014 NBA Playoffs. Steve Ballmer brought a new, uh, eccentric attitude with his purchase of the team, and eventually got to redressing his players and brand.
The designers had a clean slate to work on, and were likely thinking outside the box. They then decided to put the logo into a box.
The Clips new regular logo is decent, but this alternate should never be stitched on any jersey or cap.
13 Shaq Shoes
While not a team logo, this one has to be recognized.
The benevolence and business savvy of Shaquille O'Neal is admirable. He created the affordable Shaq Shoes that were available at places like Kmart and Payless for $40.
Everybody on the court knew where they were from too, unfortunately, and the usual question was: "Is that all your family can afford?"
Shaq really just ripped off the Jordan Brand, and even used the same theme in his logo. Instead of the "Jumpman" image like Jordan has, Shaq used his own "Dunkman" image for Shaq shoes. He was Shaqtin', and makes the list.
12 1989/90-2001/02 San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs "Fiesta" logo is an icon of 90's NBA logos.
Spurs fans have fond memories of those David Robinson led teams. You have to feel bad for the Admiral though, because in all of his highlights he is wearing a monstrous, effeminate garment. A long ways from his days at the Naval Academy.
It was an era of vibrant colors, complex patterns, and mesh, for some reason there was lots of mesh. This is a great example of how anything can be marketed as cool, but nostalgia should not negate aesthetic truisms. Everybody knows this thing was an abomination, admit it Spurs fans.
11 2002/03-2005/06 Trailblazers Alternate
The Trailblazers have had their classic pinwheel logo since the 70's, but unveiled this sweet clip art of an alternate in 2002. It looks like a 50¢ temporary tattoo you get out of those coin machines at bowling alleys and Chinese restaurants.
It's blazing two trails at the same time, so that's impressive.
In '06 the designers for the Blazers got a chance to update the alternate logo, so they added the words "Portland Trailblazers" to this bad boy. You should have seen it. Eventually they scrapped this design altogether, now if only they did the same with Blaze the Trail Cat.
10 2015/16-Present Atlanta Hawks Alternate
This is the Boy Scout badge you get when you successfully light a fire with no matches.
Just kidding, it's a green basketball with wings that's on fire. Well, that actually sounds more absurd.
The Hawks may have been trying to play on their team's ability to get hot from distance, but the fire also ambiguously resembles the head of a bird (we'll assume it's supposed to be a hawk), so it's hard to tell what's going on for sure with this Dr. Frankenstein creation.
The color scheme resembles that of bloody diarrhea, which may have also been intentional.
9 1978/79-1989/90 New Jersey Nets
If the Nets were ever as good as this logo is boring, they would have been really, really good.
For what it's worth, it does cover the basics, it has the location and the team name. Oh, and the shape of the location, we can't forget that!
It looks like their state legislature designed this logo. It's non-denominational, it's non-discriminatory, it attempts to split red and blue evenly. Actually, this could be the best logo ever made! This design must have taken them hours to come up with!
No, this is a basketball team we're talking about here, this logo is LAME.
8 1967/68-1975/76 Indiana Pacers
This is what happens when you let a goalball player design your franchise's logo. It ends up looking like a goalball or a giant tennis ball, maybe even a tether ball. One thing is for sure, basketballs are not neon yellow.
That hand only has four fingers.
This one could've easily gone higher on the list, but it's not all on the Pacers here. They're in a no-frills blue-collar type of city, and apparently like the idea of their logo being in the same ethos. That ethos of course includes countless losing seasons and financial hardships, perfect logo for the franchise.
Here's another one that's not an officially licensed NBA logo, but like Shaq Shoes, very much deserves credit.
Objectively, this was a pretty cool logo when it first came out as it represented Starbury, the Stephon Marbury basketball shoes that sold for under $40. It's an M (not Masons) turned sideways, with a triangle (not eye of Rah) for the fifth point of a star.
Then Marbury went and tattooed it on the side of his head. This was his "jump the shark" moment in the league. The logo now represents a failed business endeavor and disappointing career, but forever on Marbury's head.
6 1948/49-1956/57 Fort Wayne (Detroit) Zollner Pistons
Fort Wayne wins the all-time creepy award with this one. The original owner of the team, Fred Zollner, was a piston manufacturer, and the Wizard of Oz was a mega-hit in that era, thus, the birth of this visibly uncomfortable cylinder man.
What's with the finger gun? Why does he even have human hands? Is he wearing Jordan's?!
Cylinder man looks happy, and the Zollner Pistons were decent - they reached but lost the finals in '54 and '55 - so you have to give him credit. Despite his grotesque appearance and complete lack of joints, he still knew that Ball is Life
5 Philadelphia 76ers Alternate
If somebody who is unfamiliar with Western History sees this logo, their first reaction is, "Who's that old white guy?"
It's hard to tell... But he must have been a baller, for sure.
Seriously though, this logo had some serious potential. A hooping founding father is hil-aaaarr-ious, but Ben Franklin does not intimidate anybody.
This soft-boiled egg of a man would've been crossed so easily. The Sixers could've gone with any Revolutionary; James Madison, Nathan Hale, Paul Revere or the OG George W himself would've all been better choices than this guy, who drank on average seven beers a day.
4 1951/52-1961/62 Philadelphia (Golden State) Warriors
On second thought, this one wins the all-time creepy award. This logo takes the cake for stereotyping an entire nation of people, but we've come a long ways in society, so we can look past the blatant offensiveness of this image to see that it is actually all-around terrible.
That's a tetherball; it has a string on it. He must be playing shirts vs. skins. He must have just farted, or told a really bad old-man joke. Cool shorts.
At least the font-type is OK. That's the only thing holding this back from being hire on the list.
3 1971-72 Houston Rockets
The Rockets have a long history of ludicrous logos, so it's hard choosing just one. This one is out of this would though. It's classic 1960-70's pop art. In fact, the guy is blasting off to hang out with those dudes signing bills on Capitol Hill, so they can find out how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.
The San Diego Rockets moved to Houston in '71, and changed their logo to this. The very next year they changed it to the logo they used until the mid-90's. They can never distance themselves from this "jawless" enigma.
2 1960/61-1967/68 Boston Celtics
Where to even begin with this one...
Well, it has absolutely nothing to do with basketball; he's wearing baseball pants and buckle shoes. Is the stick really necessary? This logo was upgraded to add that sweet orange background.
The crown is fitting, though. In the eight-year stretch the Celtics used this logo they won seven Championships and Bill Russell won 4 MVP's, so maybe there was some luck in that leprechaun.
The Celtics current alternate logo was inspired by this character, but the luck hasn't returned, maybe they need to ditch the spinning basketball and go back to that stick.
1 1974/75-1980/81 Denver Nuggets
Good ol' Yosemite Sam. In an age of eccentric cartoonish logos, the Nuggets were not going to be outdone. They actually paid somebody to draw this thing, and then used it!
The artist must have been the team owner's grandson or something. Nepotism is the only explanation for this.
He is all torso. His limbs stick out in random directions, and his feet are at impossible angles for that matter. Could those eyes get more beady?
He is the Mountain Man Michael Jordan, complete with the tongue sticking out mid-dunk, so for that, he is number one on the list.