Making Of: Kings New Uniforms

From subtle historic mementos to carefully crafted patterns, get the inside story behind Sacramento's new uniforms.
by Alex Kramers

A half dozen mannequins – draped in first- and second-round prototypes of adidas-manufactured uniforms – along with buckets of shredded paper and countless rolls of adhesive tape, flooded every corner of Kings Creative Director Ryan Brijs’ third-floor Sleep Train Arena office, transforming the executive workspace into a makeshift design and fashion studio.

With a team-wide push for innovation – on top of a looming, final deadline – Brijs and Kings VP of Brand Development Erica Rau shifted from tweaking pixilated patterns on computer screens to physically attaching and exhaustively reconfiguring printed paper strips on purple, black and white fabric.

“Initially, my office walls were covered with designs, but once we had some mannequins and prototypes, it really turned into this experiment lab where we mocked up patch-work on uniforms,” recalls Brijs with a chuckle. “I was printing out – the best that I could – stripes to go down the sides of the uniforms, so we were hanging up and taping paper to see what worked best and which color-ways we liked the most.”

A ferocious steam of ideas throughout the course of the entire two-and-a-half-year rebuilding initiative – as team personnel ranging from Kings President Chris Granger to Kings players shuttled in and out of the office and granted a first-hand perspective – culminated in the construction of a classic but strikingly revamped aesthetic.

“You can do a lot of things in the two-dimensional space, but when you see them in 3-D, there are a lot of aspects that don’t work,” says Rau. “We wanted to be true to our roots, but at the same time, our new era and our new mantra are all about modernizing and looking to be inventive wherever we can … We ultimately came to a place we all feel really excited about.”

Although Kings decision-makers, in continued collaboration with Hattiesburg, Miss.-based branding agency RARE Design, explored hundreds of elaborate designs – toying with pinstripes, colors outside of the primary palate and caricatures of royal sashes – rather than needlessly departing from the boundaries of identity, gravitated toward a motif that serves as a fine-tuned extension of its core parameters.

“We’re not doing our jobs unless we push the limits,” says Kings Chief Marketing Officer Ben Gumpert. “We wanted to make a bold and very fitting statement for who we are as a franchise, who we are as a city and who we are as a team, but we also wanted to make sure we were still true to ourselves. We didn’t want to be in a position where we pushed so far it almost left from that very important foundation and connection we have.”

For Founder and Principal of RARE Design Rodney Richardson, the uniform set’s distinctive visual elements bring an iconic ideology to the surface in a reimagined capacity, neatly balancing historic cues with contemporary style.

“Sometimes, teams want a complete departure from their past, but other teams have sometimes departed a little too much and want to go back,” says Richardson. “I think what the team realized throughout this project is that they wanted to reconnect this great heritage – to tie in heritage of the past couple of decades – and then (find) how it blends into the true comprehensive story of the Kings and how it projects forward.”

Inspired by design elements from as many as four retro uniforms – from the mid-1970s Kansas City era to stylistic, asymmetrical cuts prominent in the early 2000s – the new looks provide subtle yet intricate nods to the franchise’s longstanding legacy.

“We wanted to look through our jersey anthology, so to speak, and really understand … (if) there are elements that maybe existed before and resonate with who we are again,” says Gumpert. “If you look at our team history, there were pivotal times when we had double-striping down the side, so we brought forth that element with a modernized take.”

“Some of the striping in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s – right before the rebrand in ’94 – were some of the other eras we wanted to pull from and to take forward in our concept of the logo rebrand,” adds Brijs. “The late Kansas City years and the first uniform in 1985-86 had a similar striping.”

At the same time, the organization was careful to not directly replicate earlier-period looks or inadvertently shift backward in exploring an assortment of options.

“We tried ‘Sacramento’ across the chest – and we know fans are really passionate about our city – but with the new typeface, it just became so cramped and condensed,” he says. “It almost took us back to where we’d been before. We looked at ‘Sactown’ and ultimately went with the city’s acronym, ‘SAC.’”

“Vlade talked a lot about his love for the city, the fanbase and team pride,” says Gumpert. “He talked about walking out of the tunnel, how meaningful it is and how he remembers each and every game. Those three letters represent Sacramento, and he absolutely loves both how simple and bold it is.”

The depth of the organization’s commitment to The New Era of Proud extends from prominent emblems on the front of the uniforms to the concealed baby-blue inside collar and tucked-away lower hem tagline, which hide intricate identifiers on parts of the fabric that aren’t visible on the highest-definition TV broadcasts.

“Baby blue is such a special color for this team – it’s one of those heartbeat colors that every fan remembers,” says Richardson. “We looked at whether it should take a larger place throughout the entire identity, but (even though) it’s not a primary color moving forward, it’s one of those heart-and-soul pieces that’s part of the connection with core fans. So the details are things only people who are the closest to the franchise will connect with and know what it means.”

A more conspicuous but nonetheless deliberately-understated aspect of the global uniform is the introduction of the unique, interlocking ‘S’ pattern, which inadvertently came to symbolize a number of fundamental ideologies.

“We wanted something that encompassed Sacramento, so the ‘S’ comes from the Sacramento city flag, which is representative of the rivers,” says Brijs.
“When it started to look like a chain, which is a symbol of strength, we were digging it because, for us, it represents what our fans did, which is link and come together in a really strong way to fight for this team,” adds Rau.

The idea of the pattern being more than decorative, but profoundly metaphorical, once again resonated strongly with Sacramento’s VP of basketball operations and general manager.

“When you hear Vlade talk about togetherness and teamwork, you can see how the same interlocking elements are very much a part of it,” says Gumpert. “It’s the connection our team needs to have with the community and understanding we’re all in this together.

Incorporating a heralding lion in place of the center crown and an asymmetrical stripe on the left side, the look functions as a definitive extension of the team’s international focus.

“Having strength and being even more modern is adding a single stripe and pushing the limits,” says Gumpert. “We talk about growing the game of basketball and ensuring it’s the premier sport of the 21st century, so the black jersey – with the global crest at the center – certainly represents that mission.”

Prior to putting on each of the new uniforms to simulate dunks and jumpers as part of the team’s first photoshoot, Willie Cauley-Stein – an inquisitive second-year big man who has a passion for art and design – studied the overt embellishments and theorized which angles and aspects would be electrified by zoomed-in cameras.

“Right away, he was keying in on various elements, asking, ‘What’s that pattern about? That looks clean and that looks modern,’” recalls Gumpert. “If you look back to his first press conference, someone asked him, ‘What do you think about being in Sac?’ He said, ‘I know I look good in purple.’ We asked him about it, and he remembered exactly what he said. So when he put on the uniform, he was excited and joking about it.”

“He liked all of them, but I’m pretty sure his favorite was the global uniform,” recalls Brijs. “He thought it was really cool and clean, and he looked fantastic in it. He was stoked during the photography, and even more so as he got to try the different jerseys on and really understand he’s representing our city by wearing them.”

Much like the ongoing revitalization and transformation of Sacramento, the new uniforms introduce a strong foundation the organization plans to further enhance as it embraces the newly-launched era of Kings basketball in The River City.

“We’re going to continue to look at how to evolve the story,” says Gumpert. “We’re a community that continues to grow, that continues to show the world what Sacramento is about. We’ll continue to think about how we can best show who we are and what we represent – whether it’s in our uniforms or everything else we do.”

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