The untimely death of basketball player Kobe Bryant has occupied the headline writers for two weeks. Discussions of his sporting legacy, his relationship with his daughters and how a complex figure like Bryant should be remembered have provided fertile ground for journalists.
In branding terms, the star’s death has produced a fascinating challenge for the NBA – the all-powerful sporting organisations that runs American basketball. For half a century, the NBA’s logo has featured the gangly silhouette of basketball hall-of-famer Jerry West dribbling his way into immortality.
Like Bryant, West played for the LA Lakers and was similarly successful, albeit in a much earlier era when basketball had a fraction of the attraction it now possesses. In 1969, when the NBA hired Alan Siegel to create a new corporate identity for its organisation, the designer pored over hundreds of photographs of basketball players before selecting an image of West at the centre of the NBA logo.
Fifty years and several billion exposures later, that image is among the most famous corporate icons in America. Which made what happened two weeks ago all the more challenging for the NBA.
Almost immediately after the tragic news of Bryant’s death, a petition was started to have the late player’s image become the new basis for the NBA logo. More than 3 million fans have now signed the online petition, with celebrities like Snoop Dogg and many of the NBA’s current players also supporting the initiative. Even West, now in his 80s, is open to the idea of the logo ultimately changing to a different player.
But here we run into an age-old branding conundrum: do you fixate on a logo or do you flex it to your advantage?