Fan Take: New look has me "uniformly impressed"
Full disclosure, happily confessed: I love sports uniforms and logos. LOVE them. Used to draw them when I was a kid. Hung posters and pennants on my wall based on them. Bought t-shirts with team logos on them, not out of loyalty to any of those teams, but because I liked the way they look. I am a nerdy nerd for uniforms and logos.
In fact, I just went into the other room to count up how many basketball team t-shirts featuring classic logos I currently have (I tend toward the classic; tradition goes a long way with me). Counting defunct ABA teams, I have sixteen such shirts, with the Suns represented twice (home and away), and not counting a t-shirt commemorating the first slam dunk contest, held by the ABA in 1976, and a shirt with a representation of Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore’s head, circa 1977 (you really should look it up – it’s something to see).
So when the Suns recently announced and revealed their new-look logo and uniforms, I was a very interested party. I feel the Suns have a pretty proud history of interesting logos and uniforms, and that any change has a lot to live up to. I’m the guy who still misses the Suns’ original jerseys, with their prominent use of purple and the cool 1960s-style font for the team and player names. I never saw the Suns play in those uniforms, but I wish I had. A couple years in – 1973, to be exact – the team switched to a more distinctly western style of type that better identified the club with their home region. No other team had lettering like it, and it set the Suns apart. Writers in other cities joked about the Suns’ uniforms, but that only made me prouder – Go on, underestimate the Suns because of their non-traditional look and because purple and orange isn’t a color combination you see every day in a team uniform…See how funny it is when you go home with a loss.
During the years with those uniforms, the Suns’ logo was deceptively simple, fitting into a rectangle, with purple lettering on the top and bottom tiers, a flaming basketball in the middle encased in a block of orange. But look a little closer, and you’ll see how cool it is: The lettering is decidedly non-standard, with the “Phoenix” retaining the style of the first uniforms (albeit a little more squashed), and the “Suns” in the familiar lower-case style that can be read the same way upside-down as right side-up (very smart thinking when putting a logo at center court, knowing that fans and television cameras will be looking at the floor from both sides). The touch I like the best, however, is the use of negative space in the middle – The basketball-as-sun is part of the orange block, but the “rays” emanating from the sun are simply cut out of the solid orange. Other teams at this time were making use of negative space in their logos (the Atlanta Hawks, most notably – a great logo), and it was, to my mind, an extremely cool trend. The logo and the basic uniform survived for a quarter century.
The “Charles Barkley Era,” which began in 1992, felt like a sea change not just for the team, but for the whole culture of the sport in Phoenix, and the Suns responded by not so much changing their logo as updating it. The logo retained the three tiers – lettering, image, lettering – but angled it for a greater sense of motion, and redrew the basketball and sun beams to connote “being on the rise.” The font was modernized as well, and negative space was no longer part of the equation.
The uniform change was much, much more radical. The Suns were one of the first teams of that then-modern era to really play around with traditional jersey style – letters: straight across the chest or arched over the numbers, very symmetrical, perhaps a little flair on the legs on the shorts.
Instead, the Suns took a cue from their newly-angled logo, and set a streaking sun on an upward angle across the chest, with the lettering and numbers off-set and very un-symmetrical. It was a jarring change and it took some getting used to, but once that was accomplished, the unis could be seen for what they were – dynamic, unique to the league, and flat-out cool. The purple and orange seemed darker, and the white of the names and numbers popped off the fabric. This was also the beginning of the age of alternate jerseys, when teams realized that jerseys in other colors, particularly black, would sell well. The Suns were among the teams most helped by this – the new uniforms looked dynamite with black as the primary backdrop color.
The Suns only slightly altered their logo in 2000, but also debuted their knockout secondary logo: the firebird rising off a basketball, a banner across the ball reading “PHX.” This put them at the forefront of another new trend – abbreviating the home city – soon to be found on jerseys and in logos around the league (see OKC and ATL).
In 2001, the Suns completely changed course stylistically again, this time with their jerseys. A new, blockier type crossed the chest, and an oval circled the centered numbers. A representation of a sun on the primary uniforms was hard to find (it was on the side of the shorts in the form of another secondary logo). Gray appeared in the uniforms, paneling the sides. Teams went berserk with alternate jerseys at this time (a trend that continues today), and the Suns introduced an orange roadie. The orange became more primary to the Suns’ color scheme than purple, coinciding with the successful “Planet Orange” campaign, but I always felt these uniforms made the Suns less distinctive on the court and more like other teams in the NBA.
Thankfully, the most recent changes make the Suns stand out once more. The logo has changed a bit, losing the purple backdrop in favor of black and introducing a new font with metallic letters that look as though they could interlock – sleek, without being clunky.
But the jerseys…the jerseys are really, really solid. What sticks out about the home whites are how…white they are. Orange piping and trim is kept to a minimum…and so is the purple, giving the uniform a light, lean look. The orange lettering is graded and eye-catching, the black numbering jumps out as a result of being the only dark item on the jersey, and negative space makes a happy return, as the sun rays leading into the number end in an arc that suggests a circle around the digit (I’d have preferred an effect that better suggested a sun, rather than a circle, but you can’t have everything). The road jerseys bring a glorious return of the purple, which sets off the orange numbers perfectly. The tilted angle of the lettering, sun rays and numbering pay tribute to the Suns’ uniforms of the Barkley Era, and the nine sun rays? One for each former Sun player in the Ring of Honor. The Suns, having already hired Jeff Hornacek as Head Coach, continue to reconnect with the past, and there couldn’t be a smarter move.
I hope my editors at Suns.com don’t mind if I skip over discussing the sleeved jerseys. I’m not a fan of the idea, for the Suns, or anyone else. I’ll still root for Phoenix when the Suns wear them, of course…I’m not that opposed.
Take it from a guy who obviously puts way, way too much thought into uniforms and logos: the Suns’ new style continues what has been a largely successful and promising offseason, and ensures that, one way or another (and hopefully both), Phoenix will be looking good.