The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Robin Givhan’s scathing review of the original Wizards logo

Buckhantz cameo. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Yesterday’s retrospective on the renaming of the Washington Bullets eventually made its way to ESPN columnist and “Around the Horn” panelist J.A. Adande, who, while working as the Post’s Bullets beat writer in 1997, covered the Wizards’ uniform unveiling at Union Station. Adande suggested we check out an accompanying piece about the uniforms by Post fashion writer Robin Givhan.

I dug up Givhan’s column, and it did not disappoint. Givhan won a Pulitzer Prize in Criticism in 2006, but you could make the case she should’ve won an award years earlier for this. Enjoy.

Wizards’ Wear: No Court Couture (July 12, 1997)
By Robin Givhan, Washington Post Staff Writer

The Washington Wizards’ uniforms were unveiled yesterday in a runway presentation under the soaring arches of Union Station’s main hall. It was a setting to make a New York designer weak with envy. But one hesitates to refer to the event as a fashion show, because that would imply that what was being modeled was fashion. It was not. Fashion designers were kept away from these uniforms.

That was probably for the best. While sports paraphernalia consistently inspire fashion designers, a case of a designer creating truly original, hip and street-worthy sports attire has yet to be documented. Athletes themselves, for instance, initiated the shift from leg-baring hot pants to baggy bloomers that reached to the knees.

Had a hotshot fashion designer had a hand in these uniforms, the Wizards would be trotting out next season in spandex hot pants and “body-conscious” T-shirts.

But the problem with the Wizards’ look isn’t the silhouette or colors of the uniforms themselves, but the logo. It is ugly. At the very least, misguided.

The stylized rendering of Merlin twirling a basketball and leaping over a crescent moon is cluttered and unappealing. From a distance, it resembles a still from the opening sequence of “Bewitched,” in which a cartoon Samantha rides her broom past the moon.

Sports folks have only themselves to blame for that logo, which looks like something that might be found in neon on the side of a Las Vegas nightclub. But they can also take all the credit for the new team colors — black, a metallic brown and a deep lapis or “Wizard” blue. They have a sophisticated, even elegant appeal. The road uniforms, blue with black insets and brown stitching, look sleek and tough. There’s not a hint of the studied trendiness embodied in the recent popularity of teal.

The home uniforms, not as successful, have a white background with blue insets and brown stitching. The effect is not as bold, and that dismal logo looks even more washed out and uninspiring.

The warmup suits, black for road games and blue for home ones, look terrific thanks to deep colors and simple lines. The only blight on the landscape is that annoying, pointy-hatted man and that ludicrous moon.

But the afternoon presentation wasn’t so much about the uniforms as it was about marketing the uniforms, marketing sports, marketing paraphernalia, marketing enthusiasm and just plain marketing. Wizards star Juwan Howard made his runway debut. Hear the crowd of young kids shriek hysterically when he models the road and home uniforms. Ahhhh!

“That was the first time for me being a model,” Howard says. “I was a little nervous. I didn’t know what to do.” A hint: Pause a little longer at the foot of the catwalk. Work the moment.

The afternoon crowds saw Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes, who took her back flips to Broadway, cartwheel and flip down the short runway. She wore a gray Wizards T-shirt and then later a nylon warmup jacket. Fans watched Wizards draft pick God Shammgod meander down the catwalk in a blue chambray shirt with a Wizards logo embroidered on the left breast pocket. (One has to wonder what this child’s parents must have been thinking when, in naming him after his father, passed the burden of that moniker to yet another generation.)

Classic sports paraphernalia, the kind of stuff that even non-sports fans will wear, generally are adorned with logos or team names done in a graphically clean manner. Consider the ubiquitous Nike swoosh, the classic simplicity of the New York Knicks’ lettering or the Chicago Bulls’ ox. The Washington wizard is trying to do too much at one time: spin a basketball, hold on to an eight-pointed star and leap over a sliver of a moon. In attempting to accomplish so much, it accomplishes nothing at all.

One also wishes that there were more imaginative Wizards paraphernalia. There’s no denying that T-shirts are mandatory, but what about a pair of roomy boxer shorts in that rich, metallic brown with maybe a Wizard-blue stripe down each side? A pair of blue cotton jersey sweats would be nice, perhaps with a stylized W on the upper leg. How about a jog bra with a Wizards logo? And if it’s okay to cross sports and make a golf shirt with the Wizards emblem, why not a biking jersey?

The 1997 uniforms were designed by the NBA, along with input from Nike. The Goliath sportswear company had a say in the styling because it has a deal to design and manufacture Wizards uniforms and other paraphernalia, beginning next year, says team President Susan O’Malley. All of which means the look of the uniforms — but alas, not the logo — could change slightly. Already, Nike has tweaked next year’s uniform by adding . . . a swoosh. “The league said it could be subtle. There’s a new idea: subtle,” O’Malley says.

The NBA is responsible for that logo. “The team has a say, it just doesn’t have a vote,” O’Malley says, adding that the NBA’s aim was to create a classic, more traditional logo — more Boston Celtics than Toronto Raptors.

Once the logo becomes better known, O’Malley says, it won’t be quite so ubiquitous. So overwhelming. Repeated ad nauseam. As it is, the emblem is on the right side of the shorts and on the back of the warmup shirts. But what really makes the uniforms seem overdone is the secondary logo — a snaking “dc” with a basketball dangling from the top of the letter c. It sort of looks like a big, curving python sucking down pig.

The new uniforms need to look good on the court. They must be telegenic. They should be unique and memorable. They should be strong, bold and aggressive. And they should inspire fans to buy T-shirts and jerseys and whatever else in team colors. They will wear the team colors to support the cause. Understand that this, of course, in no way reflects whether true fans will embrace the uniforms and the assorted sports shirts emblazoned with it. That’s all about love for the team and whether the team is winning.