The Los Angeles Clippers are desperately and inevitably, the Los Angeles Clippers.
This past summer they unveiled their new logo and uniforms to near universal disapproval. I second (or 12th, or 2,574,948th) that disapproval. It’s bad – but not bad as that it is very not good. The Clippers new brand may have no soul, but it’s a fresh start for a desperate franchise.
The Clippers have joined in on the joke that everyone else has made, but it does not absolve them accountability. They are responsible for this mess and it is up to them to fix it. Owner Steve Baller, who made his billions selling software that was mediocre, functional and ugly, was bound to have had a say whether these jerseys would ever be worn by an actual basketball-playing human being. Could he have used actual Microsoft designers on his NBA basketball team? Probably not, but it looks that way. I say this because they look like WordArt.
Exactly how this happened is unclear. It was reported in late 2014 that California-based ad agency RPA was named to be helping the Clippers distance themselves from the beleaguered brand that D. Sterling let decay back into the ’50s. As no design credit has been attached to official press releases, it could be be safe to say that good branding has been defeated in the boardroom… except for that glimpses into the process don’t inspire belief that many great options existed in the first place. Ballmer is an excitable middle-aged man and he is not a bad person by any reasonable judgement of character, but he has an aesthetic and God save us all, it is on display.
A change was needed, and Clippers fans should embrace this new era of ownership. But this? Is it really better?
The potential heir to the Los Angeles basketball spotlight look like design school rejects. Some truths never die, and the root of the Clippers, despite the upgrade in ownership, is dysfunction.
This Funny or Die short isn’t something I immediately watched, but I did inherently believe the premise that Blake Griffin had a hand in designing the Clippers logo. This is hard evidence that the Clippers are still in a bad, bad place where I will believe any sort of institutional dysfunction that I hear about them. There is a learning curve in NBA ownership, and although spending money to hire more experts on the advice of experts is most of a successful NBA ownership playbook, Ballmer is also needs to learn that a hands-on influence, especially early on, is detrimental to success.
The redesign of the Clippers brand is horseshit and amateur – everyone knows this – but it’s not as horseshitty and amateurish as the team has been accused of. This re-branding effort is of a similar quality to many other teams currently in the NBA. While the Nets are myhthologically designed-by-Jay Z (and it shows), some of the best teams in the West are also plagued by inferior sartorial options on the court. The Thunder have played like they are compensating for being sent to school in penny loafers by balling their fucking asses off since widowing Seattle, and the NBA champion Warriors have been wearing what looks like a half-finished comp for half a decade now (and no one cares). The difference for the Clippers: they took a step back.
When I awoke there was no sign of the ship. A clipper is a fast-moving wooden boat, but nothing about the look of 2015-16 Clippers would let you know that. The small nautical elements on their light blue alternate (which have been replaced by a Windows 3.1 ‘Alert’ dialogue pane) had been a tiny bit of detail that at least acknowledged their name. The chest script typography — one that had been more evocative of a nautical theme than a typical sports script — is also gone. Ditching boats and water and sailing flags from their identity disassociates them further from themselves. Normally, one key of a successful re-brand is to recognize a team’s history, but this is something the Clippers seem not interested (or capable) in doing. Nothing about the past was good. They are starting from scratch.
Let’s take a look at the details:
The logo: There are a lot of things happening here. None of them are good. There is a basketball – and a monogram inside the basketball – there is the word CLIPPERS – and there are expressive lines that act like jazz hands made of bezier curves. There are shades on the massive letters, which are “silver linings” to quote the press release, which is a small refinement to reduce the volume of this screaming monolith.
The Clippers are ditching a thin serif for a thick sans-slab typeface and keeping only the colours. This new logo follows a lot of trends seen around the league – a sense of minimalism similar to many Christmas Day and alternate jerseys, sturdy sans-serif typography seen in new Bucks and Raptors looks – but not in an effective way. With such a strong emphasis placed on the ‘CLIPPERS’ wordmark, it’s lack of graphic personality underwhelms the design.
Meanwhile, the alternate logos are loaded with phony myth and symbolism…
Unique, iconic and a distinctly “L.A.” logo, the Clippers new LAC monogram depicts a blue “C” wrapping around the “L.A.”, literally embracing the city. The stacked LA also takes the shape of a basketball court signifying “LA Basketball”. In addition, the silver lining seen in the Clippers wordmark signifies the renewed collective optimism of Clipper Nation.
… and ultimately has the function and character of a brick.
The jerseys: The Clippers now have four jerseys, one red, one blue, one black and one white. On their own, all four of them are terrible: ugly logos, lacking subtlety, slapped on generic colours is a losing combination. The red version with odd placement of the monogram beside the player number is actually a little bit insulting.
In context, the new look Clippers may look much better on the court than on Twitter. Clippers PR did this design no favours by leaking it (or not keeping it sealed). Picked apart by people like me, the public could reach a final verdict before they could really showcase the design. The whole package is when these jerseys are donned by one of the most efficient and explosive of offences in the NBA, at home in the Staples Center and a blur of speed on your crystal clear HD television. Besides, is an ugly jersey on a Chris Paul and Blake Griffin offense still an ugly jersey?
The floor: The inclusion of black into the Clippers’ colour scheme is most apparent on their new floor. The italic Times New Roman along the baseline is another casualty of this brand cleanse, with the floor under the expensive seats replaced with a stark black and white design. Emphasizing both the light court and the blue and red paint, something tells me this bold colour scheme is perfectly tailored for the sharpness of HD broadcasts. Like their rival Warriors with their intense yellow, an aggressive court design can round out a team’s design concept. For this reason I am willing to suggest these might not look as atrocious as they do now.
The Clippers have never been the most stylistic team in the NBA. Since their arrival in Los Angeles from Buffalo via San Diego, the Clippers have sported the same basketball shape foreground by a red and blue wordmark. Across the chest of the jerseys, the script ‘Los Angeles’ and ‘Clippers’ had endured since the ’80s but is, at this point, surface level nostalgia for something not worth remembering.
Keeping their colour scheme was a smart move among misguided ones. While the red and blue may become a small bridge between notorious gangs in Compton and South Central LA, I doubt this was a guiding principle in retaining the colours. It’s not something the Clippers have ever acknowledged, either.
In 2015 it’s nearly impossible to not associate the team’s branding with the pathetic history of the team’s ownership (not just incompetent, but incompetent and racist!) and their history of losing. Before Los Angeles, the Buffalo Braves and San Diego Clippers were teams with modern and bold designs that were everything that the new identity isn’t.
In 2015, the Clippers are not a pretty brand, but the younger malcontent of Los Angeles pro basketball is finally an authentic brand. After three decades, they are finally relevant, this year no more than ever. As a matter of principle, this Clippers re-brand has been a success even if the design is substantially under par. An ugly logo can be corrected in a way that three decades of catastrophe can not. Clippers, onward.