The Cleveland Cavaliers—often referred to as the Cavs—were established as an expansion team in 1970. Behind the play of superstar forward LeBron James, the Cavs have reached the NBA Finals twice, in 2007 and 2015 (once before and once after his stint with the Miami Heat), but have yet to win a championship.
The Cavs have had two distinct visual identities throughout their history. The team initially adopted a ‘wine-and-gold’ color scheme and logo with a musketeer holding a rapier in a fighting pose. The team wore maroon uniforms on the road and yellow uniforms at home. When the team changed ownership in 1983, the franchise adopted a blue-and-orange color scheme and used the shorter Cavs nickname on both their new logos and uniforms.
In the mid 90’s the Cavs added black to their color palette and demoted blue and orange to accent colors. The Cavs would return to their ‘wine-and-gold’ color scheme (albeit closer to red and metallic gold) with navy as an accent color the same year they drafted LeBron James with the number one pick. The team would continue to wear that look until 2010, the season James left to play with the Miami Heat. That offseason, the Cavs introduced their current uniform set, modeled heavily on the team’s original look from 1970.
The primary logo is a slightly recolored version of the logo first introduced 2003. The current version features darker shades of maroon and navy and a brighter, more yellowish gold. The heavily stylized ‘Cavaliers’ wordmark is positioned at a slight diagonal angle over the basketball with a gold rapier piercing through the letter C. Both the complementary angles of the wordmark and the rapier and the choice and distribution of color create a stylishly well-balanced design.
The alternate logos modify the ‘C’ from the primary logo and use it in various arrangements. The standalone C logo has an extended bottom portion and is presented in maroon with a gold outline with a navy drop shadow effect. The second alternate logo pairs the C with the rapier from the primary logo. The final alternate logo angles the rapier to the right, attaching a maroon burgee swallowtail flag with the standalone C logo in white. The distinctive design of the C works well on its own, representing both the city of Cleveland and the Cavaliers brand.
The white home uniform features ‘Cavaliers’ on the chest and the player number centered below it in maroon with maroon and yellow trim on collar, armholes, waistband and bottom of the shorts. The maroon road uniform has ‘Cleveland’ and the player number in yellow with yellow and maroon trim. Both the yellow and navy alternate uniforms which were introduced in 2012 and 2014, respectively, have ‘Cavs’ on the chest in maroon. The yellow alternate is primarily worn at home while the navy alternate is used for away games. The Cavs almost exclusively wore their alternate uniforms during the 2015 NBA Playoffs.
The uniform set loses points for its dated, retro look which combines the uniform template from the Cavs’ first uniform with the wordmark and player number layout from the team’s second uniform, both of which were worn in the 70’s, and is a downgrade from the team’s previous, modern uniform design. Rather than pushing the brand forward, this design sends it backwards.
Neither the ‘Cavaliers’ nickname nor the maroon-navy-and-yellow color scheme hold any particular significance for the city of Cleveland, however the current on-court visual identity is relevant to the team’s history as it borrows heavily on past color and design.
While the Cavs are the only team to wear a maroon uniform as their primary road option, they are one of three teams with a yellow alternate uniform. The Cavs are one of three teams (along with with the Raptors and Thunder) with two alternate uniforms.
The Cavs receive low marks for consistency. The Cavs have four different uniform colors, one for each of the team colors, however neither navy nor white appear as accent colors. The use of typography is inconsistent and the Cavs lose additional points for replacing the wordmark from the logo that appeared on their previous uniform set with a completely unrelated typeface on their new uniforms.
Points to Improve
- Either introduce a new logo that incorporates the wordmark and typeface from the current uniform set or restore the former jersey wordmarks to increase consistency.
- Retire the white and maroon uniforms and use the more visually distinctive yellow and navy uniforms exclusively as the home and road options, respectively.
NBA Branding Assessment Ranking
All writings contained herein are copyright ©2015 Brian F. Sanford. All intellectual property including but not limited to names, logos and uniforms are properties of the National Basketball Association, its member teams, ownership groups and/or organizations. All images are used for noncommercial educational purposes. No copyright infringement is intended.