Those new Raptors jerseys you weren’t sure were real, are real. And they’re spectacular.
Drake, the Raptors’ en-suite Professional Enthusiast, debuted the jerseys at his annual OVOFEST this past month in Toronto. The hottest star in the world delivered this new jersey to eager fans during an outpouring of Toronto emotion, wearing Raptor newcomer Cory Joseph’s number six. It was a homecoming that no other role player could receive. There is no other NBA city where this could matter more.
Looks good at 75 feet and 75 pixels
The new design, which had been speculated to be the franchise’s much-anticipated new look since an Adidas promo sheet was leaked earlier this summer, turns out to be real and the upgrade was everything was waiting for. The concept is flat, minimalist and bold, less like a traditional badge created for thread and fiber, more like… an app. After all, the NBA digital audience is growing because the NBA has been aggressive in pursuing those markets, so individual teams should do the same. On social media it’s on trend and looks contemporary while on fabric it achives a classic refinement. It’s a gorgeous jersey.
The spectacular unveiling continues a franchise wide re-branding that began and evolved with the astonishing success of the #WeTheNorth campaign. The last step was getting rid of that forsaken dinosaur and the Toronto Raptors now look fantastic.
The pressure to get this right was very high. Raptors fans are famously fickle, and if any faith was lost among their loyal fans something that didn’t cater to their each and every need could be disastrous. Heightened anticipation meant that there was a lot riding on this, tacked on to the fact that the Raptors are one of the biggest emerging brands in the NBA in a mammoth market.
The reveal did not fall short of expectation. The Global Ambassador had his biggest Raptors moment yet: affirming what had been a relationship that felt a little cheeky until now. Despite the OVOfest performance, the preferred medium of Drake as of late has been social media and Toronto’s gilded Raptors aficionado used that leverage to display the brand’s hot new look. Draped in the 6 twice over, the sincerity of Drake’s relationship to the Raptors is shedding critics and the Raps are absorbing fans by osmosis.
The logo: The. Dino. Is. Gone. Like a scene in a Gary Hustwit movie, the old design was clear cut and replaced with a modern typeface and the freedom of simplicity. There are 21 (including the Hornets) NBA teams with a ball in their logo and there is finally one that looks good. More than a gimmick, that claw wrapped around that ball is the element that ties this new look to a brand with infamously Jurassic beginnings and a twenty-year history of evolving. A rugged, post-industrial slab sans-serif wraps the clawball in a clean and uncomplicated pairing, a duality similar to the tension of an international city with working class roots. This is trendy, but following one in sports branding that the Raps, MLSE and Sid Lee helped start.
The jerseys: The Raptors have the difficult task of representing both the city of Toronto and the country of Canada – an unfortunate reality that is unlikely to change until Canada gets another NBA team. Red, white and black is a colour scheme that hints at one certain patriotic identity, but it’s also an amazingly effective and variable one. The home whites are crisp, bright and uncomplicated with red piping that pops, destined to shine in HD. The deep red of the away jersey is obviously patriotic, but the deepness of the colours ensures subtlety over garishness. (To honor the military, black jerseys are also so much more appropriate than gawdy symbolism. Would you wear something like this to Remembrance Day?) The inclusion of gold piping into one of the alternates, though inherently tied to Toronto’s gilded son, reminds the rest of Canada that the heart of the Raptors is always the 416. Still, by default the Raptors gladly find themselves representing town and country.
Colour is important. The choice of swatch and the amount of it set a new standard for bold minimalism in NBA jerseys. (The Bucks are the other splendid new example.) “Flat”ness puts an emphasis on colour — and big swaths of colour also look great if you pick the right colour. Three obvious choices balance one cheeky one. The OVO-inspired gold away alternate, despite it’s near inevitable ubiquity once it goes on sale, is one slick fucking jersey.
On all four, ‘RAPTORS’ across the chest is done is the same slab arched above the player’s number, which is set in a European football-inspired clean-but-quirky sans-serif. The shorts are clever in their simplicity, with a ‘T’ running up the side, sitting on top of their clawball logo to finish the ‘O’, relying on no more than a band of colour and piping. These are design choices – not concessions. Bold colours, especially the deep red and obviously the gold, give this set of jerseys a regal quality. Classic piping and reclaimed chevrons (a small element left over the Raptors previous seven years but one heralded by sports jersey geeks) let the black and red and white take over.
The court: We haven’t seen the new court. My prediction is that they do something bold, with lots of black along the baseline and bold typography. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they kept things classic. (Interpret “classic” however you want.)
Everything else: The #WeTheNorth campaign is worth mentioning because of the impact it had on the currently look of the brand. Since MLSE joined with Sid Lee mid-2014 to refresh a tired brand sitting on a geiser of enthusiasm, the brand has become popular beyond the Raptors and emblematic of Toronto itself, much of that due to the successful merging of the slick and the brash that is the Raptors new aesthetic. The choppy lines, bold shapes and stark monochromatic provided a nice bridge for designers to be so daring in their simplicity with this next update.
(I’ve covered this topic before. Don’t make me do it again.)
The Last Word
The Raptors were in desperate need of a change. The scorching success of the team on the court and the brand off the court raised the stakes and the need. The Raptors got the ball rolling on this re-design in 2014 but the elements of experimentation and change were seeded before that. (Remember the weird optical illusion on the baseline?) By nurturing their new design identity through the #WeTheNorth campaign and other Raptors promotions — with eager help from the team, their GM and their rapper fan — gradually introducing these elements and tweaking old ones just so that nothing is too out of place. The Raptors finally look like a professional team, sporting a design that is genuinely reflective of a very real dual identity.