Making Of: Kings New Logos

Hundreds of intricate concepts and countless rounds of back-and-forth revisions would soon follow, but when Rodney Richardson – Founder and Principal of RARE Design – sketched a preliminary concept of Sacramento’s new logo, he didn’t realize he’d inadvertently found exactly what he and Kings decision-makers were seeking.

The powerful, all-encompassing symbol invoked a deep sense of nostalgia while reinvigorating a heritage that had long distinguished the historic franchise.

“Honestly, I didn’t even think about this when we first came across it – We had just created this image board, and one had a basketball with a crown on it,” he recalls with a chuckle. “It was kind of funny, and obviously, it didn’t take long for us to realize we were inherently doing something that is very much a part of this team’s past.”

At the outset, the Hattiesburg, Miss.-based branding agency – which recently executed the rebranding projects of the New Orleans Pelicans, Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks – shied away from reinstating the former emblem, presenting initiatives ranging from Middle-Age regalia to animalistic representations.

“We went to the moon and back – we literally had thousands of sketches that we looked at, in terms of entirely new logos to those that were based on the current one to designs of every sort of crown,” recalls Kings Chief Marketing Officer Ben Gumpert. “Even though we considered everything, we ended up in a place that best represents who we are.”

“We looked at lions, swords, crests and crowns and variations of ‘SK’ abbreviations,” adds Kings Creative Director Ryan Brijs. “As the logo options evolved from round to round, the one thing that kept resonating with our team was this sort of modernization of the old logo.”

Ultimately, the intrinsic simplicity of the iconography combined with the robust underlying back-story swayed all parties to pursue revitalizing a cherished favorite.

“I think we all kept coming back because instinctively, it just felt right,” explains Richardson, formerly lead designer for Nike’s Global Basketball division. “This identity symbolizes the founding principles of this organization, of grassroots authenticity, of a passion for success. ... It represents, at the highest level and the cleanest level, who they are and the game they play. ‘The kings of basketball’ – you cannot say that any simpler than that mark does. So why force it? It’s like we were trying hard to push it aside (thinking), ‘We can’t just go there because it’s there,’ (when) it does everything that we determined this mark needs to do for this team, this city, and it brings with it, deep, deep roots. Who can ask for more?”

Years before vibrant photo illustrations would coat reams of printouts, however – as a new Kings ownership group led by Kings Principal Owner and Chairman Vivek Ranadivé celebrated an unprecedented, monumental victory in the spring of 2013 – it became increasingly clear the near-two-decade-old branding no longer defined the organization’s direction.

“Our (former) logo became so much about the fight (to keep the Kings) – it has lances and it’s sort of in this medieval kingly state, which was very true to that feeling of fighting for the team,” says Gumpert. “But now we’re moving forward, there is positivity and there’s a sense of new hope for the region. We asked, ‘How can we better capture that emotion in a brand that stands for everything we now represent and everything we want to represent going forward?’”

Kings department heads internally debated whether the team name was still relevant as the organization ushered in a new era of basketball in Northern California, or if a different moniker could better suit the ideologies and characteristics of both the franchise and city.

“’Kings’ was a term we wrestled with a lot,” says Brijs. “We took a step back and asked, ‘Is this the right nickname for the franchise? Do we change it to something that feels more appropriate for the Sacramento area?’ The Kings name came from Kansas City and it originated from the Rochester Royals and evolved from that … so we evaluated what a ‘king’ really means.”

“Certainly, there was such a passion for it – it’s who we’ve been – but when you look at some of the definitions of ‘kings’ and ‘royalty,’ there are elements we don’t stand for and don’t mesh with who we are,” says Gumpert. “The world has been blessed and cursed with many kings in history, and we looked closely at the elements of kingliness that truly represented us.”

In spearheading the rebranding process, Richardson focused on the virtuosities of kingship, conveying that the mantle’s founding qualities of leadership and loyalty perfectly embodied Sacramento’s finest traits.

“When you look at the name, on one hand, you can look across history and see there are a lot of kings who can be seen as ruthless, pompous and haughty, and we want to distance ourselves as much as possible from that,” says Richardson. “But as we talked about it more, I said, ‘Every bit of that is true … but you can also see kings who were compassionate, who were very powerful but ruled from a very responsible place and knew what that power would do. You can see kings who were visionaries for their people and their realm and were very synergistic in how they rallied their people together. They were great strategists and wielded their power in ways that showed great composure and wisdom.

“I said, ‘What I hear from you, is that’s what you aspire to be, so the name rightly fits. You just have to determine the story of the king you’re going to be and not allow the stories that have been told in the past to dictate that for you.’”
Once the question of the team name was settled, RARE Design strived to identify the depths of its central story, exploring not only the squad’s on-court aspirations, but also unique personality of the region and its residents.

“We found the spirit of being continually progressive and the spirit of perseverance in Sacramento,” says Richardson. “You can look back at the history – everything from railroads to the Pony Express to the Gold Rush – and then look at what’s happening now with the tech industry and social progression. You see this can-do attitude when facing adversity and moving toward goals.

“We also looked at the organization, and again, we saw this great eye toward innovation – just look at (the development of) the arena, impacting the game and impacting the League in very powerful ways. You take all those attributes and you start to find these threads of consistency that tie all this together, and that is the sweet spot of where the story of this brand and identity lives.”

An overwhelming sentiment shared by everyone from designers to Kings team members to engaged focus groups comprised of lifelong fans and new supporters alike, was an obligation to retain purple as the primary color.

“We did two weeks with 12-plus focus groups that were 90 minutes to two hours in length, and in one of the first exercises, the facilitator said, ‘I want you to write down the first thing you think of when I say, “Sacramento Kings,”’ says Kings VP of Brand Development Erica Rau. “We took all of those answers and mapped them on a word cloud, and the two biggest ones were ‘purple’ and ‘pride.’ There were many more exercises where we talked about fandom, and we saw the passion for purple is deep.”

“The Kings first became purple in Sacramento, so there’s some ownership of it, and it is sort of our identifier,” says Gumpert. “If you’re wearing purple around the city, around the region or for that matter, around the country during a Kings game, you have that shared love and shared pride for the team.”

The potent color is deliberately more prevalent in the new logo due to its deep-rooted psychological elements.

“Of course, purple is the color of royalty across all kinds of cultures, which makes it perfect for the name, but it’s also the color of imagination,” says Richardson. “It stimulates imagination and high ideals. At the same time, it’s a very introspective color. When you look at that, it really does fit this team. It’s a color that’s deep in that pursuit … it’s now less encumbered by as much of the black because we want this color that’s ambitious, self-assured and commands respect to lead the way for this identity.”

In replacing the flash and shininess of silver with a darker slate gray, the team unearthed another distinctive correlation with its surroundings.

“We wanted the gray to be modern, bold and strong, and as we explored it, we kept asking, ‘Can we strengthen it a bit and make it unbreakable?” says Rau. “That’s how we envision our fans and our city.

“So much of our arena is inspired by our physical surroundings in Sacramento, and a lot of the elements of the arena have that granite and stone from the nearby mountains, so it was a foundation for having that strong gray.”

While reintroducing a familiar scheme that traces back to the early 1970s, the overhaul presents an original, block typeface, as well as contemporized tweaks, including broader channeling on the lower-half basketball, a wider and shorter crown with more defined peaks, and “Sacramento” emblazoned prominently in the center.

“Our criterion for the design was modern refinement, (because) as you look all around this arena, the refinement there is amazing,” says Richardson. “We had to execute it by the standards of this organization today and needed something that represents these Kings today.

“(The typeface) had to be very intentional with its sharp, cunning, sleek precision, but yet also represent the bold power of these athletes in this game.”

Throughout RARE Design’s months-long discovery and research processes, the firm also uncovered new ways to graphically convey the team’s core values in secondary logos featuring its mascot, Slamson the Lion.

“The lion represents what’s truly unique to Sacramento – the pride and the roar of our fans,” says Gumpert. “You hear it from every player on our own team and opponents. Everyone sees how much love there is from the fans.”

“He is the king of the jungle, so there’s the kingship and royalty assumed there, and he already has that great history with the team,” says Richardson. “It’s not just something we’re sticking in with no context, and it gets to live in a way it actually hasn’t in the past.”

With Sacramento embracing a worldwide identity and holding global aspirations, a heraldic lion incorporating the trademark crown and basketball embodies an international flair.

“We were just traveling in China and traveled to India multiple times, and we looked at the impact of the NBA broadly and the impact Sacramento can have in these regions in terms of growing the game on a global scale,” says Gumpert. “We wanted a mark that brought it all together.”

The full family of logos resonated and gained instant approval from Kings legends, including Mike Bibby, Bobby Jackson and Doug Christie, as well as former All-Stars and current team executives Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic.

“When Vlade saw it, he made an audible gasp,” says Gumpert. “He even pounded his chest a little bit. In his signature voice, he said, ‘I love it. That’s very strong. It feels right.’ That kept on being the reaction as we unveiled it to Mike, Doug, Bobby as well as current players.”

The pride variation presenting ‘SAC’ across the middle gained an even more enthusiastic reaction and fervent support from the Kings VP of basketball operations and general manager.

“Vlade was slapping the table when he saw that logo,” says Brijs. “He said, ‘Finally! This is so great to have that as one of our logos. Our community is going to love it.’ Peja came into the meeting just a few minutes later, and Vlade couldn’t wait to tell him about it.”

In unifying the franchise's aesthetic legacy with an enhanced, contemporary look, the Kings rebranding aims to welcome the citywide renaissance with a design that’s both visually stimulating and unmistakably Sacramentan.

“We’ve drawn a lot of parallels between the transformation that happened here in 1985 and how it’s undergoing another transformation,” says Brijs. “This 2016-17 season will be a remarkable beginning to a new era in our downtown home.”

Drawing inspiration from the resurgence of the area while turning a page toward a boundless future, the new mark epitomizes the organization’s internal mantra – “Bigger than basketball.”

“Like anything, this has always been so much more than a logo,” says Gumpert. “It’s really about who and what we want to represent.

“As the arena opens, as downtown continues to revitalize, as this region continues to grow on a world-class scale, the logo will continue to stand for more and more. We love that this identity is such an important vessel for The New Era of Proud.”

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