Within days of completing his purchase of the Washington Wizards from the Pollin family, Ted Leonsis was in discussions with the NBA and its apparel partner, Adidas, expressing his desire to create a different look for his franchise. Leonsis had made it clear that the Wizards wanted to return to a red, white and blue color scheme more reflective of the nation’s capital, and one that the basketball team had worn from the time the Bullets moved from Baltimore to the Washington area in 1973 until the name was changed to Wizards in 1997.
The process for NBA teams to change their logos or uniforms usually takes two years, but Leonsis’s desire to start anew and bring his NBA franchise into the fold with the other properties under Monumental Sports and Entertainment, such as the Capitals, enabled the team to unveil a new look — or rather a modern take on an old look — on Tuesday in about 11 months.
“Sometimes, we have some circumstances where we have new ownership, we have a vision, and we can move these timelines around a little bit,” said Christopher Arena, the NBA’s vice president for apparel, sporting goods and basketball partnerships. “The Wizards were very focused and very clear where they wanted this to go and that really refined the brief and direction we wanted to go, and that creative process was really truncated in a small amount of time.”
The dramatic transition from the bearded magician to a rebrand more reminiscent of the Bullets was a collaborative effort by the Wizards, the NBA and Adidas. Adidas assigned a team of 11 designers to create a look that Leonsis said “should pay appropriate homage and respect to the past, to the tradition, and what the Pollin family built, but also have that modern twist on what we want to accomplish as a group together.”
Leon Imas, category designer for concept and identity for Adidas, said he has been involved with 71 identity projects for various sports teams but said the Wizards assignment was especially exciting for him since he grew up in Montgomery County, studied art at Albert Einstein High School and is a long-time fan of the team (Gheorghe Muresan was his favorite player growing up).
“Being from the Washington, D.C., area, this was a point of pride to be a part of this project,” said Imas, adding that when the Wizards presented their proposal to Adidas, they asked the company to “celebrate the city, celebrate the heritage and give us something fun, young and modern.”
Imas and his development team researched every uniform the team has donned for the past 50 years and traveled to Washington to do research and get some ideas. Although he is aware that some fans had hopedthe team also would change the name back to Bullets, Imas said, “I think for us, it was really about telling the story of D.C., not so much about the name. Just wanted to show that hidden symbolism that D.C. has as part of its heritage.”
The new uniforms feature horizontal stripes and lowercase letters in bright red and navy blue. The new primary logo – the letters “dc,” with a hand shooting a ball from the top of the “d” — brought back the hands that once formed the shooting “L’s” on the Bullets jerseys. “I think it does something different with the stars and bars look, and I think it still tells a great story for the Wizards,” Imas said.
Adidas floated several plans to the Wizards, including creating a logo centered on the Capital, but eventually settled on a tertiary logo that featured the Washington Monument pointing toward a star. They also used the monument to form the letter “d” in the home white uniform and the letter “h” in the road red uniform. The shorts featured a star on the side that helps form a “W.”
“There was a clear vision of the direction we wanted to go, in terms of big picture, and I think the league and Adidas was really great, in taking those big ideas and helping us arrive at specific designs to review, collaborate on, revise, and move through the evolution of the process,” said Greg Bibb, the Wizards’ executive vice president of business operations, who worked with the league and Adidas. “There were a lot of revisions and evolutions and I feel really good about the process. We were very diligent and deliberate.
“Hopefully, it creates a new type of connection with our fan base and gets our fans excited and energized about a new look. I think that a big part of this, it sort of symbolizes one of our other overarching themes of our first year with the Wizards, that we’re trying to and working on reconnecting with our past.”
The Wizards became the latest team to go with a modern retro look, joining the Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers and Golden State Warriors, who have done the same in the past decade. “I don’t know if this is sort of en vogue, just as teams going back and saying the fans have asked for this, we have an ownership that’s ready to embrace this,” Arena said. “It’s brilliant. I love it. I think it feels like who the Wizards should be, given their location and their city. Obviously, it makes sense for branding perspective for teams within Monumental Sports.”
Leonsis was pleased with what was created. “I know how much pride a team can engender in a community and a city,” he said. “They loved the old look of the team. We’ll look even better when we’re a really, really good team.”