The Milwaukee Bucks have one of the richest visual histories in the NBA. Bucks players have sported basketball’s most diverse variety of palettes and patterns, their hardwood floor has been adorned with modernist masterpieces and postmodern nightmares, their mascot has evolved from a friendly doe to demon foe.
In 2015, the Bucks are once again one of the most design-forward franchises in the Association. Three young Brooklyn designers from the firm Doubleday & Cartwright – Justin Kay, Christopher Isenberg and Kimou Meyer – were tasked with the Bucks redesign, one of the NBA’s most historic (yet currently struggling) brand. And given an extremely limited time frame. The result is a ruggedly authentic brand that drew inspiration from zombie deer, the geography of Wisconsin and the hard-nosed industrial heritage of Milwaukee.
While it’s not unconventional for a company in 2015 to put their brand in the hands of young 20- and 30-something designers, pro sports teams have been infamously phobic of good design. Low-risk, low-reward options that satisfy a need and follow the generic conventions of what a pro sports team looks like have been the default for years. Recently, some teams have broken from the pack, and the new normal is homage to the classic era, stressing a post-industrial simplicity over garishness. The Bucks are the new high standard for any NBA team looking for a change.
Years of Deers
The Bucks have a spectacular sartorial and design history. Like no other team in the NBA, their look has changed to suit the times, but also never defined it.
In the beginning, the clean lines of the Oscar and Alcindor-era Bucks helped define the classic look of the early NBA — although not nearly as much as the Lakers and Celtics. In the years after, their court became a canvas, sparking an obsession with original court designs that lingers to this day. Since, the brand has de-evolved as the team struggled, becoming possibly the first and most disastrous of casualties from a wave of terrible design that almost irreparably damaged sports branding in the ’90s. There was an attempt to resuscitate the design in 2006, but by then the brand had been associated with losing and mediocrity for so long that despite some great maintenance, it was still lacking. Until now, Milwaukee might have been the one team in most desperate need of design-forward thinking – and they got it in droves.
Despite their Brooklyn locale, this redesign was locally-sourced. Overseeing the project was D&C’s Wisconsin-born Creative Director, Justin Kay, who could provide local wisdom and authenticity to the concepts. According to Phil Hecken on ESPN.com, there is a lot that didn’t make the final design, but the elements constructed to build this new Bucks brand were visually-sourced from the pale yellow bricks of Milwaukee’s buildings to the deep blues of Wisconsin’s lakes give an ethos to the team that relates them directly to their home. (Take a look at some of their source imagery here.) “Controlled inconsistencies” in the design – such as the notches cut in the sides of 3s and 8s – allow the designers to achieve balance between a “workhorse industrial feel” and the “Milwaukee kitsch” of Laverne & Shirley.
The logo: This new deer is aggressive. The happy deer spinning a basketball logo is absolutely the greatest logo a team could have, but change is constant and monumental and inevitable, so we have something new. Their buck has grown up and mutated over the decades, and now it is a full-blown raging wild animal. But “aggressive psychopathic deer” is actually a great look for a team looking to be distinct. The strength of this design is its originality: it didn’t change the formula of the logo it was replacing (buck + antlers + team name + shape) but boldly changed each element. The type is straightforward and the colours are less complicated. The ‘M’ in the chest of the deer and the antler rack that resembles a basketball are fantastic little details, and without them this deer falls closer to being a generic sports animal.
There is also the sense – if not full-blown conspiracy theory – that the stylized buck is actually a zombie deer. A kind of deciduous four-legged Phoenix birthing itself from the ashes of previous ownership. Note the undeadness of the eyes, but also remember that weird things frequently happen in the woods. Have you ever been to Wisconsin? Who knows what happens there?!
The jerseys: Take a look at Giannis Antetokounmpo dunking the shit out of this basketball. Watch it a second time to check out those Bucks home unis, because they look awesome. The bright white looks crisp, enhanced by the dark green with hints of cream mediating between the two, the simple combination doesn’t need anything else. The road jerseys are good but not as great, but that may just be because the ‘Milwaukee’ lettering is a tighter fit and the colours don’t pop as they do at home. The condensed industrial typeface and arch used on the back of jerseys also allows for a long name such as ‘Antetokounmpo’ to fit properly, which is an important consideration that could have been overlooked.
The new “Fear The Deer” alternate is intense. Their PR department calls it “a simple, aggressive tone”. The black jersey is accented by every colour in the Bucks’ diverse palette – the notches of blue on the shorts and blue/cream/green striping down the sides of the jersey stand stretch the limits of the brand but don’t break it.
The court: Evocative of their famous Mecca design but much more subtle, sharp lines just out from the corner of the key, a lighter shade surrounding center court in a rhombus. The design is full of the brand’s new elements, if not overly-cluttered with them. Surrounding the court is a blue band, a direct reference to the state’s lakes. On each baseline, the ‘state logo’ alternate accompanies the ‘Milwaukee’ name.
In addition to the “Fear The Deer” jersey they also unveiled an alternate court design, which is an NBA first and much more subdued than the regular court design. The dark tones of the hardwood, baseline and simplified center court are spooky and aggressive, completely opposite the bright colours of the regular home court.
This jersey and the court design will be featured together at four homes games in the Bradley Center. No word so far on whether Bango the Buck will be clad in something equally goth.
The Last Word
Not simply following the trend but setting the bar higher, the Bucks’ new look is a masterful example of minimalist style. This redesign is a real sense of change for a franchise stuck in the rut of mediocrity, and a real future for a storied NBA team with far more history than they’ve had recent success. A small group of designers took on this task with a process that was design-driven, the result not focused group to death. The NBA is a billion-dollar industry where each franchise needs to compete globally, but in a small market like Milwaukee the key to a successful rebranding has been tying the team to its roots and its history. More brand conscious than ever, NBA franchises are going to look at the Bucks embarrassment of new riches – their crisp home unis, their black alternates, the distinct post-digital industrial look, the best mascot in the business, the alternate court design – and want those toys too. For the Bucks, though, a successful brand was needed to keep this team alive and in Milwaukee. On the brink of having all-star talent that will truly allow this team to become re-born something new, the introduction of this bold new look reinvigorates a franchise that has a truly unique place in the sartorial legacy of the NBA and puts them on the vanguard of things to come.