In a world that moves faster than any of us can blink, where trends come fidget-spinning through the zeitgeist and sports franchises push boundaries, few things remain the same.
Well, except maybe the branding for the Dallas Mavericks.
Sure there are staples that are the gravitational pull for a league constantly evolving its look. These teams — the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Boston Celtics of the world — may not always be at the top of the standings, yet they remain iconic brands with timeless design, and have earned the right (and perhaps the duty) to remain beautifully untouched.
The Dallas Mavericks simply don’t have that luxury. Even still, the franchise’s design aesthetic has been mostly stagnant since 2001. A young Mark Cuban, who purchased the team just the year before, ushered the Mavericks into a new era with a new look by doing away with much of the design elements of the 20 years prior.
The bold new design from the Mavs, trading the navy blue, kelly green and cowboy hat for a lighter blue and silver, a scowling horse and shield with very new-millennium font felt appropriate and maybe even cutting edge in its time. But 18 years later it’s stuck in a previous decade while so many franchises revitalize their identity.
It hasn’t just been this site calling for change, tired of looking at mostly the same jerseys and logo for nearing two decades. Back in October ESPN’s Zach Lowe, in his yearly NBA League Pass Rankings said, “It’s long past time the Mavericks burn all their art. All of it. It is dull and bad.”
What Lowe speaks to is all-encompassing, and they must revamp each design element because they go hand-in-hand. Graphic Designer for football recruitment at the University of Oklahoma (and designer of the now-vintage LukaxDennis WMCJ shirt) Tyler Upchurch explains, “I think every element in a brand is equally important because when creating an identity for a sports team you need to have consistency throughout the brand. All of the elements have to stand out individually as well as communicate the same style and message collectively.”
Staying true to an era
Perhaps it’s brand loyalty motivating the Mavericks to make few changes. Speaking with sports graphic designers, both national and local and familiar to the Mavericks’ fan base like Upchurch, they all agree that loyalty to an era’s identity can be a motivator as well as a deterrent.
“I think the reason we’re nearly 20 years into the current logo-jersey combo is a 7-foot German man. I think the team has wanted to keep a consistent look throughout his tenure,” said freelance designer Skyler Thiot. And there is no fault in this defense. The Mavericks have been blessed with the loyalty of basketball legend Dirk Nowitzki, and being sure the organization maintains the identity of his tenure is important. But as the Tall Baller from the G considers hanging up his jersey for a final time this summer, the Mavericks have a unique opportunity.
NBA teams had the chance to assess and re-imagine their branding just two summers ago when the league shifted from Adidas to Nike, and were given space to diversify jersey options. But outside of adding single-season “Statement” jerseys that haven’t made much of a statement at all, the Mavericks have stood pat.
Speaking with Paul Lukas, ESPN columnist and creator of Uni-Watch.com, the freedom to take chances is clear: “The way [the NBA and Nike] set it up, you can have it both ways as a team. You can play it pretty conservative, with your primary [home and away], and then you can kind of get out there, and experiment, and see what people respond to...so I am surprised that any team, including the Mavs, would not do that.
“I’ve gotta say I’ve found the current look...I think it’s one of the blander — not particularly strong, doesn’t have a lot of character — looks in the league.”
Making significant change, of course, is easier said than done. Even when a fan base has been clamoring for a visual freshening of the franchise, designer Conrad Burry says, “it is a difficult, years-long process that requires commitment, patience and confidence to make the right decisions.”
Still the opportunity for evolution seems obvious. Much is already being made of the possibilities that Cuban and Donnie Nelson have in building a roster around Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis to kick-start the next era in July. And with that the Mavericks should have a whole new look, a bittersweet move from the best two decades in Mavs’ history and an optimistic declaration for what’s to come.
Bridging the old and new
One simple way to ease a transition is identifying the best in current and previous designs and using it as the inspiration for the new. The Philadelphia 76ers (another iconic brand) used this well in their newest look. They had variations of the same logo from the mid 1960’s until the late 90’s, when they too took a right turn and changed everything: logo, color scheme, jerseys, adopting a very early-2000’s look during the Allen Iverson era. As his time ended, coincidentally or not, the Sixers refreshed their look, tapping in to the nostalgia of their team history.
While the Mavericks may not have the same storied past, they too could draw from that. “People have strong emotional connections and nostalgia to previous eras...and it can bind generations,” Lukas remarked. “Nostalgia is a very powerful motivator.”
The route the Mavericks take largely depends on their owner — Lukas even called Cuban a “wildcard” in this process due to his hands-on approach. But Dallas has the foundation for a look unique to them. Most of the designers I spoke with urged the team to utilize the oft-longed-for kelly green from the Mavs of old, while also revamping the logo. Though Lukas also joked, “The Mavs should bring back the Hefty Bag...it was awful when it happened, but have we reached the point, has it been long enough, where you can laugh about it now and say it was so bad it was good.”
It will be a tall task for the Mavericks, but the fan base is ready. For fans and organization alike it is an emotional tug of war, closing the chapter on what we know a team to be. With a future this bright, the Mavericks are ready to claim a new identity.
Special thanks to all the designers that spoke to me for this article: Paul Lukas at ESPN and Uni-Watch (@UnitWatch), Tyler Upchurch (@TylerUpchurch24), Skyler Thiot (@SkylerinDallas) and Conrad Burry (@conradburry). Follow them to catch all their great design work, opinions on sports design and conceptual artwork.