The Washington Wizard isn’t gone—he’s just officially buried in a sea of red, white, and blue, likely never to be heard from again.
Ted Leonsis’ ownership group finally unveiled the much-anticipated new look for the city’s basketball team today, with dim lighting, pop music, balloons, and customized cupcakes giving the Verizon Center’s practice court a feel of “high school mixer” meets “evening gala.”
Welcoming fans to the future while connecting them to the color scheme of the past was the theme of the day. But Leonsis insisted that the change had more to do with the memory of former winning ways—rather than just how bad the old Wizards colors were. He focused on the word “motif” instead of the discarded option that has seemingly come to grind the owner’s gears the most: a name change. (Why wasn’t that on the itinterary today? Because, Leonsis declared, modifying the intellectual property of a team takes at least 25 months and requires multiple changes in other NBA cities.) Fan satisfaction might not be at 100 percent as long as the name “Wizards” is still around, but they can be happy that an effort which took a year and, per Leonsis, “millions and millions of dollars” finally brings a much-needed upgrade.
The main changes: A sleeker font similar to Leonsis’ Washington Capitals; a secondary logo featuring a lowercase “dc,” with the stem of the “d” morphing into an open hand reaching for a ball (like the old “double-L” in Bullets); and—of course—bars and stars reflecting the colors of the American flag (well, as close as Pantone 289 and Pantone 186 can get). The design team that worked with the Wizards, including a three-member crew from adidas (Leon Imas, Sumiko Kalish and Mike Bui) and Christopher Arena, the NBA’s vice president for apparel, sporting goods and basketball partnerships, even managed to incorporate the silhouette of the Washington Monument three times without it looking overly phallic.
The tallest and most recognizable part of the city’s skyline can be found in the “d” in “Wizards” on the home jerseys, in the “h” in “Washington” on the away jerseys, and in a third alternate logo that features the monument pointing surreptitiously toward a single star above, over the backdrop of a basketball. Team president Ernie Grunfeld indicated that the concept of a basketball in front of the Capitol was considered—but since Leonsis’ ownership group is called Monumental Sports, the west end of the Mall won out.
The curtain-raising was led by Leonsis, Grunfeld, executive vice president of business operations Greg Bibb, Wizards coach Flip Saunders and greats of the past Bob Dandidge and Elvin Hayes. Players John Wall and Jordan Crawford modeled, mostly giving mean mugs in uniforms—until the ice was broken when they were asked to further show off the wares, which includes a star forming a “W” underneath on the lower outer seam of their basketball shorts.
“The only thing I was upset with was the leak and then all of the articles and all of the write-ups,” Leonsis said of the roll-out, referring to an incident in early March when the current logo featuring a wizard and crescent moon made its way onto an online photo of a NBA team logo jacket, just with the colors replaced. “I would tell people, ‘That’s not what we’re doing,’ but no one seemed to care about that. They only wanted to generate pixels and feed their own monsters.” (Washington City Paper generated its own monster-feeding pixels, enlisting designers to imagine alternative logos.)
A “find-and-replace” version of the old Wizards logo did end up making it onto the team’s official new reproduction guideline sheet, but all indications point to it never being used again. Leonsis denied the leak and the resulting pixel monsters played any part in shaping internal opinion.
Dying the Wizard, but not killing him, means the name that has little to do with the District except some alliteration will still inundate box scores and sports ticker bottom lines. Pretty new colors and dashing logos are intended to serve as an opiate to the masses, and of course, to add to team sales receipts. But ultimately, winning is what counts—the rest is haberdashery.
Photos by Kyle Weidie