[Editor’s Note: Today we have a guest entry from Rick Bakas, a graphic designer and creative director who spent eight years working for Nike early in his career. We hope that today’s entry, which will serve as an introduction of sorts, will be the first of many contributions from him. Enjoy. — PL]
By Rick Bakas
As a kid growing up in Denver in the 1970s and early ’80s, I remember having a distinct brand experience with Nike. In third grade, one of my classmates came to school wearing the royal blue Nike Cortez sneakers with the giant yellow swoosh. Until that moment, the only things that had generated as much buzz in our class were the Ataris we all got for Christmas.
Other kids might have wanted to be astronauts or firefighters when they grew up, but at that exact moment I decided I wanted to work for Nike. As luck would have it, my family moved to Portland, Oregon, during my senior year of high school. In fact, we moved to a house down the street from Nike’s world headquarters.
After getting my design degree, I partnered with a friend to create a clothing line called AnyWear Gear, which was sold at Nordstrom on the west coast and was picked up in Japan by some skateboarding shops. As a 24-year-old, I was good at design but not at business — the brand was growing but we weren’t making any money. Fortunately, someone at Nike noticed AnyWear, and that led to my being hired as a graphic designer in the Team Sports division of Nike apparel in October of 1995 — a dream come true. The company was expanding its apparel business on-field in an effort to be the authentic head-to-toe brand worn by pro and college athletes.
What I didn’t know at that time was that I would be part of a small team of designers who would change the face of team sports through apparel innovations and a series of high-profile team identity redesigns.
Our ring leader was Ken Black, an art director who had studied at the pinnacle of design education — the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. The architect and creative director for our team was Todd Van Horne, who was one of the coolest people a creative person could ever work for. He was part long board skateboarder, part soccer fanatic, and part “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski.
Just as the NFL had the so-called Bill Walsh coaching tree, producing legendary coaches like Jon Gruden, Dennis Green, Ray Rhodes, Mike Holmgren, and Steve Mariucci, our Black/Van Horne design tree produced designers like Scott Patt (currently head of design for the footwear brand Cole Haan) and Rodney Richardson (head of Rare Design, which has done many of the recent NBA team redesigns), and Eric Bodamer (currently doing NHL uniform design for Adidas). We may have joined Nike as a ragtag crop of fresh-faced graphic designers, but we came out armed with a deep understanding of sports branding.
During my time at Nike, I was fortunate enough to serve on the teams responsible for redesigning the Denver Broncos (very special for me, since I grew up in Denver as a Broncos fan), the University of Oregon Ducks, the New York Giants, the Florida State Seminoles, the Portland State Vikings and Team Jordan. Rodney Richardson and I also worked on logo and uniform concepts for the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks, although neither of those projects saw the light of day.
I left Nike in 2003, when I had to move back to Colorado due to a family emergency. I did some design work for the Sports Authority in south Denver and have done some other sports branding projects, including updating the brand for Sacramento State.
Why am I telling you all this? Because as I look around the world of sports branding and uniform design, it disheartens me to see where the trends are going. Timeless design and brand equity have given way to cartoony team logos, greed, and manufactured retail spikes. It’s no longer a matter of creating a timeless iconic sports brand like the Los Angeles Lakers or the Green Bay Packers, who respect their team heritage by keeping a consistent brand year over year. Now it’s all about changing team logos every five years and watering down the brand equity with multiple versions of a popular player’s jersey. There are so many different Lebron James jerseys on the market that it’s hard to know which one is the authentic version. Will the real Cleveland Cavaliers please stand up?
In the weeks and months to come, I look forward to drawing upon my experiences at Nike to share more thoughts about the current state of uniform design with readers of Uni Watch. If you have any particular questions, or topics that you’d like me to explore, please feel free to post them in today’s comments.
ESPN reminder: In case you missed it yesterday, my latest ESPN column checks in with the NBA as we hit the midway point of the season, with lots of statistical breakdowns regarding which uniform colors have been worn the the most, how ad-clad teams have done when facing ad-free teams, and a lot more. Check it out here.
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Worth more than a thousand words: The photo you see above shows thousands of graphite cores that will be used to create pencils. It’s one of over a dozen spectacular photos from a New York Times feature on a New Jersey pencil factory. The pics are stunning and absolutely not to be missed — trust me. Check them out here.
Cry me a (frozen) river: I’ve seen lots of bowlers’ “crying towels” over the years, but I didn’t realize there were curling versions until reader Will Scheibler generously sent one to me the other day (click to enlarge):
It was a very nice surprise to receive in the mail. Even better, Will used these enormous and gorgeous NHL stamps:
Thanks so much, Will! I’ll bring the towel with me this Sunday, when my curling team has its final game of the current season. Hopefully we won’t need any of the towel’s excuses.
By Kris Gross
Baseball News: Here’s a look at the Royals 50th-season cap patch online. Brett Swartz with a closer look (from Robert Hayes). … New Era will be the uniform outfitter — not just the cap supplier — for Bravos de Leon of the Mexican League (from Cesar). … PGA Tour golfer Jason Dufner wore an Indians/Wahoo cap while on the course. “I’ve never seen this, a golfer wearing an MLB hat during a tourney,” Chris Howell said. … A neat play on uni numbers from the Indians (from Robert Hayes). … The Yankees announced details on extending the netting at their stadium. … The Mankato MoonDogs, a college wood bat summer team, unveiled their new logo yesterday (from Matt Newbery). … These custom cleats for Oklahoma State are a bit much. … This is a great story on a guy who draws old old baseball cards (from Harry Halloran).
NFL News: Steelers WR Antonio Brown wore a franken-hoodie at practice yesterday (from Funhouse). … The Steelers added the AFC logo to their end zones for Sunday’s playoff game (from Brian Cox). … Get ready for this year’s big game with Ad Age’s online archive of over 1,000 Super Bowl ads dating back to 1969. … Great story on the Vikings’ longtime seamstress (from Phil).
College Football News: LSU’s new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger was introduced at a press conference yesterday, and Tigers fans will love his tie (from James Gilbert). … North Carolina is replacing the metal bleachers in their stadium with blue seats for the 2018 season (from Dan Tarrant). … Georgia alum and PGA Tour golfer Kevin Kisner wore an Alabama football jersey to pay off a bet to Bama alum and fellow golfer Justin Thomas.
Hockey News: Tonight the Grand Rapids Griffins, AHL affiliate of the Red Wings, will wear 1980s fauxbacks designed by Josh Elbertson, who won the Griffins’ Uni Watch jersey design contest in August! … Here are the the unis for the KHL All Star Game. “Nice job on these except of course for the sponsor logos,” Tony Caliguiri says. “I really like the touch with the captains C!”. … The Utica Comets, AHL affiliate of the Canucks, going black and neon green on Jan. 20 (from ). … Georgia Tech says they’ll wear Alabama jerseys against Georgia if they get 5,000 retweets (from Michael Zoid). … Northeastern will wear pink jerseys this year for breast cancer awareness.
NBA News: Uni sleuth Conrad Burry dug up what appears to be the other All-Star uniform, which is a reverse of the jersey we discussed yesterday. … The Raptors’ new alternate unis haven’t been officially unveiled yet, but the jersey is available for sale, at least until it’s taken down. … Kivin Fegenshu mocked up some soccer-style crests for the Sixers and Celtics inspired by the teams playing in London last night.
College Hoops News: From last night: Ohio State and Maryland went color-on-color, and Clemson wore purple (from Robert Hayes). … Color-on-color in Virginia Tech/Wake Forest from Wednesday night (from Andrew Cosentino). … New black uniforms for East Carolina (from our own Alex Hider). … Here’s a story on Michigan players who wear short shorts (from dvs). … The Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Northridge women’s teams went black vs. grey last night (from Ryan Osborn).
Soccer News: DC United teased a new jersey set to release on Jan. 19. … Inter Milan’s new away kit design appears to have leaked (from Josh Hinton). … Ipswich Town FC, a team in the EFL Championship, has announced a new jersey sponsor through 2021 (from Ed Zelaski). … The Milwaukee Wave of the Major Arena Soccer League will wear SpongeBob jerseys as part of Nickelodeon Night on Jan. 20 (from John Flory).
Grab Bag: Cross-listed from the baseball section: PGA Tour golfer Jason Dufner wore an Indians hat while on the course. “I’ve never seen this, a golfer wearing an MLB hat during a tourney,” Chris Howell said. … And from the college football section: Pro golfer Kevin Kisner, a Georgia alum, wore an Alabama football jersey to pay off a bet to Bama alum Justin Thomas. … New fire suits for NASCAR drivers Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon (from David Firestone).