Countless concepts were
sketched out as the Suns searched for a new look.
SOMETIMES, TOM O'GRADY SITS IN HIS NEW YORK
OFFICE and flips one by one through all of the NBA
logos. That's part of his job, really, as the creative director of
"When I look at the logos that might change now, and I've been
here eight years," O'Grady says, "I look at Phoenix and pass right
over it. It still feels very fresh today."
Very much a part of the marketing monster the NBA has become,
O'Grady has redesigned logos and uniforms for 14 teams, including
recent projects with the Nets, 76ers and Wizards.
Five seasons ago, O'Grady worked with Suns Vice President Tom
Ambrose and others within the Phoenix organization to help the team
design a new look.
"We felt by changing our logo and uniforms and opening the new
arena, it was the closing of the first chapter in Suns history
after a quarter century," Ambrose says.
Suns President Jerry Colangelo initiated the change. Not that
the owner wanted to totally rework his team's identity. He wanted
only to modernize the look that Phoenix fans had embraced for 25
Once the Suns contacted the NBA, O'Grady took the lead.
"Jerry told us directly that he wanted something pretty
timeless," O'Grady says. "He wanted to make sure it wouldn't be
trendy or have a 5-to-10-year shelf life. That was a criteria we
paid attention to. The first logo lasted 25 years."
Several dozen sketches were prepared by O'Grady and his staff,
who then presented their best ideas to Ambrose and then-Vice
President of Finance Rich Dozer, who is now the president of the
"We were continually trying to reduce the number of ideas and
concepts into what we wanted," Ambrose says. "It was an
The old Phoenix logo, designed by Tucson printing plant owner
Stan Fabe, had beams that emanated from the right portion of the
sun, appearing to point the sun in a downward direction. O'Grady
was told to make a slight adjustment.
"We wanted to change it, symbolically," Ambrose says, "to have
the sun going up, because we felt the franchise was headed up."
After a few more changes - putting the tail on the left side of
the Sun, extending the tail, and adding a zig-zag pattern around
the outside of the basketball - Colangelo and his counterparts were
T he entire process of deriving a new logo took about six months.
Next up were the uniforms.
"We wanted to take the key part of the logo," O'Grady says,
"which was the streaking Sun, and put it on the front of the
uniform. We manipulated it very quickly. We really mimicked what's
in the logo without being identical. It came out very
In fact, it was downright cutting-edge.
"The Suns were one of the first one or two teams to use graphics
colorfully on the uniform," O'Grady says. "They helped take that
kind of process and technology to the next level."
What made the Phoenix uniforms modernistic was what O'Grady
calls sublimation. That is the gradual changing of the sun's streak
from yellow to red as it emanates outward.
"It took an extra effort on Champion's part to do the
sublimation," Ambrose says of the club's uniform company. It's not
difficult on a printed page, but it's tough to do it consistently
on a uniform."
The Phoenix game jersey, which formerly had a Western-style look
to it with the word "Phoenix" across the chest, now has the word
"Suns" instead, with a streaking sun across the front.
More tidbits about the uniforms: the purple game jerseys the
Suns wear are actually white when they get to Champion. Then, dyes
are transferred into the material through a heating process. The
word "Suns" reads the same either right side up or upside down.
And, Ambrose's feelings that the franchise was headed upward were
correct. The Suns reached the NBA Finals in their first season in
their new threads in 1992-93.
The Sonics and Jazz also accomplished the same feat after
changing their uniforms in 1996 and 1997, respectively.
These days, O'Grady says, Phoenix's logo and uniforms continue
to be among his favorites.
"Looking at all the logos in the league now," he says, "the Suns
are the one that will continue to stand the test of time. The
design has been very successful. We feel very good about it."