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There are a lot of headbands in the National Basketball Association. And socks and towels and jerseys. And on every one of them; in fact on just about all things NBA, there is the logo. You know the one. It’s one of the most recognized images in the world. And anyone who has the slightest interest in basketball knows that the guy in the image is Jerry West. Everyone, that is, except the NBA, which tends to hedge questions about the logo saying that they don’t have a record of who it is.
How is it possible that we all know it’s Jerry West, but someone whose job is to run the NBA is unsure? It’s not. League officials know as well as anyone who the logo is modeled after, but they want to move away from the idea that it is a specific person.
“They want to institutionalize it rather than individualize it,” says the logo’s designer Alan Siegel, in an interview with the L.A. Times. “It’s become such a ubiquitous, classic symbol and focal point of their identity and their licensing program that they don’t necessarily want to identify it with one player.”
Siegel, who designed the mark in 1969 has no confusion about who the player on the logo is saying, “It’s Jerry West.”
Assigned the job of designing a logo for the NBA, Siegel was flipping through photos when he came across one of West that suited him. He used the image to create the logo. No big story, no confusion, it’s West.
A Swing and a Miss
A slightly more interesting story of sports logos is that of Major League Baseball. The current design pre-dates the NBA logo by one year and presumably provided inspiration for the West design as Siegel also worked for the firm that created the MLB logo and the designs share several similarities. With the baseball design however, it’s understood that the logo is not a specific person, but a nondescript generalization with an added bonus that the silhouetted image can be seen as either a right-handed or left-handed batter.
It’s a brilliant and oft-imitated design that has inspired countless creations, and it was created in one afternoon, with magic markers, by graphic designer Jerry Dior. And that’s where this story gets good. Well, it used to be where the story got good, but now the situation has resolved itself a bit.
For 40 years, Jerry Dior wasn’t publicly acknowledged for his massive contribution to professional baseball. While graphic designers often go unrecognized for their work, Dior had expressed that it would be nice to get some kind of acknowledgment for his long-standing design. Nothing major; maybe throw out a pitch or something. In 2009, Dior got his wish. He was recognized in a pre-game presentation in Yankee Stadium.
Of Dior’s design and his long-awaited acknowledgment, baseball commissioner Allan H. Selig said, “Jerry Dior created a symbol that has stood the test of time…the silhouetted batter is instantly recognized worldwide as the official emblem of Major League Baseball. I’m glad that we have been able to acknowledge Mr. Dior’s contribution to our national pastime.”
Of the honor Dior said, “I would like to thank everyone at Major League Baseball for making this day possible. This is one of the most exciting days of my life.”
In an interview with MLB.com, Dior expressed his pride in the longevity of his design. “Every other design I’ve done has been dropped or changed or updated over the years,” he said. “This is the only thing I can point to that hasn’t changed in 40 years. It’s the proudest I’ve ever been of my work.”
So there you have it: the guy who designed the MLB logo is Jerry Dior and the guy on the NBA logo really is Jerry West. Now go outside and play.