A few days ago, photos surfaced of Jay-Z in a shirt emblazoned with the new logo for the Brooklyn Nets. Despite his very public ownership of a very small stake in the NBA franchise, there was reason for skepticism: mostly, the insignia appeared as if it were designed in MS Paint by Canal Street bootleggers. One expected a CD-ROM pre-loaded with 1,000 free hours of AOL to tumble out of Jay-Z’s pocket.
On Monday, the unfamiliar Nets logo was disappointingly confirmed as the genuine article. Shooting for aggressive simplicity, the stark logo — a “B” inside a basketball, topped by the word “NETS” — has a simple black-and-white color scheme. Outside of the vague “B,” there are no visual markers to indicate the team hails from Brooklyn. In comparison to NBA logos from the past, it resembles the emblem used by the Rochester Royals, a franchise that later leapfrogged across America until majestically morphing into the Sacramento Kings.
We know, we know. Retro branding is all the rage. Products like Pepsi and Doritos have capitalized on nostalgia by reintroducing packaging from the past. And fetishism for yesteryear abounds in trendier parts of Brooklyn, where suspender-bound bartenders mix absinthe cocktails in speakeasies that feign to flout Prohibition. Even Jay-Z has veered toward classicism. His sports bar, Manhattan’s 40/40 Club, recently replaced lavender lighting and futuristic, ovum-shaped chairs with dark wood and glinting gold.
And yes, most new NBA logos are corny. “Sophisticated” and “timeless” are not adjectives to describe a cartoon Raptor dribbling a basketball. More problematically, teams like the Mavs and Timberwolves, groping for modernization, abandoned their great logos of the ‘80s and ‘90s in favor of polished images that look at home on the side an energy-drink can. While the Brooklyn Nets’ logo avoids the cheesiness of pandering to the now — you know, like a picture of Drake eating a gluten-free cake-sicle while watching Game of Thrones — it still doesn’t evoke a sense of quality or grandeur or refinement. It’s just bland.
But let’s get an expert’s opinion.
“I don’t hate it,” said Cey Adams, the founding creative director at Def Jam and a graphic artist who has worked with Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, and yes, even Jay-Z. “It’s just not an improvement from the New Jersey logo.” He described the two-tone color scheme as “way too flat” and “one-dimensional.” Most NBA teams use at least three colors in their logo, and only Golden State’s blue-and-yellow throwback is close to as stripped down as the Nets’ new insignia. “As far as the choice to go with black and white not a good one,” said Adams. “I’m sure they were working outside the corporate system.”
Interestingly, Adams’s theory that the Nets’ new logo came from the fringes of the design community might be accurate. When the image was introduced, the organization trumpeted the implausible detail that Jay-Z was the creative force behind the logo. Shawn Carter is an exceptional rapper, an acute businessman and a trendsetter who popularized/un-popularized throwback jerseys, but his design cred is less proven. Still, what if the creation of the logo occurred like this?
INT. MASTER BEDROOM IN SARDINIAN CASTLE — MORNING
Sunlight filters through an arched window from which panicked royalty once heaved pomegranates at encroaching pirate vessels. BEYONCÉ, covered in the pelts of enormous extinct sloths, sleeps atop a seven-sided bed. JAY-Z sits at a stone desk, plinking at his desktop Apple IIe. Captivated by thought, he absently tugs on his pinky ring, a half-pound platinum bauble embedded with the eye of a jaguar that, somehow, still blinks. The phone rings.
MIKHAIL PROKHOROV: Hola, Hovito! Is it morning?
PROKHOROV: I am at a place without time zones. In the middle of a nine-day week. Eating female sturgeon, drinking from plentitude of goblets. I digress. How does the birthing of the Nets logo advance?
Jay-Z sighs. He stares at the computer screen, which shows a capital “B” in a nondescript font and a clip-art outline of a basketball.
JAY-Z: I mean, shit. Kinda feeling these Zapf Dingbats, you dig?
PROKHOROV: Horror show. This is why I gave you the Print Shop program!
JAY-Z: Hold up.
Eyes afire with inspiration, Jay-Z uses the mouse to gently move the “B” atop the silhouette of a basketball. He stands up, kicks the chair out from behind him and extends his arms like the wings of a large bird.
JAY-Z: One-take Hov!
In September, when Jay-Z came forth to announce the “official” name of the repositioned franchise, he unveiled that it was wait for it the Brooklyn Nets. Not exactly an acme for creativity, risk, or effort. So Brooklyn, a place steeped in history and mythologized by gangster movies, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and the white chicks from Girls, is expected to pledge loyalty to a team that shrugs at local heritage? Try the Brooklyn Eagles, Brooklyn Zoo, Brooklyn Dons, Brooklyn Cables, Brooklyn Skelly, whatever. Maybe something referencing whatever nickname was given to those unshaven fellows who built the bridges out of spit and mortar. And, even worse, the normal pronunciation of the present name leads to an unfortunate portmanteau: the Brooklynettes. Aren’t those Noah Baumbach’s backup dancers?
Despite all the problems with the Nets and their new logo, the team’s merch will fly off the shelves. It’s all-black everything, endorsed by Jay-Z, a source of pride to millions of Brooklyn residents, and yet unblemished by the stench of losing. So, from a design standpoint, maybe the most pressing goal was not fucking up the massive windfall of profits headed in their direction. Mission accomplished. Next, we’ll see how it looks when superstars like Johan Petro and Anthony Morrow wear it proudly on the Barclays Center floor.