In 1969, the National Basketball Association was locked in a bitter battle against its upstart rival, the American Basketball Association. At stake were fans, players, media—and millions of dollars. The ABA had different rules, a flashier style of play, and the fire and moxie of the underdog. The NBA, however, lacked a striking identity, and commissioner J. Walter Kennedy thought he had an answer to this problem: The NBA should be the national league of basketball, like the MLB was to baseball. To accomplish this, it would need a logo that was instantly iconic, patriotic and easy to market—something that stood out on shirts, hats, bags and countless pieces of merchandise.
The NBA turned to Siegel+Gale founder Alan Siegel, who had overseen the development of the MLB logo. Seeking inspiration, Siegel pored through the photo archives of Sport magazine, where a particular photo of All-Star Jerry West grabbed his attention—it was dynamic, vertical and captured the essence of the game. In just an hour, Siegel and his founding partner, Bob Gale turned West’s silhouette into a white shape in motion, with red and blue halves that mirrored the treatment of the MLB logo. With the letters “NBA” at the bottom, the abbreviation took hold in the public’s consciousness.
An unmistakable emblem of American culture, the NBA logo became the prototype for the identities of virtually every major sports group in the world. Today, it signifies the pinnacle of excellence in professional basketball and remains one of the world’s most recognized sports symbols.