The New York Knickerbockers—generally referred to as the Knicks—were established in 1946 as part of the Basketball Association of America, which merged in 1949 with the National Basketball League to form the present-day NBA. The Knicks are one of only three franchises that remain from the beginning of that era, along with the Celtics and Warriors. The Knicks have long been associated with their home arena, the world-famous Madison Square Garden, and the parent company of that facility has owned the franchise since its founding. The Knicks have won two NBA champions, with both coming in the early 1970s.
The Knicks have maintained a fairly consistent look throughout most of their history. Since 1964, the team’s primary logo has consisted of a basketball with the ‘Knicks’ wordmark rendered in a 3D typeface above it. The team has always worn ‘New York’ on their jerseys and the uniforms have generally been blue with orange trim. The only exception was during a four year-stint from 1979-1983 where the team changed to a navy blue-and-red look. Aside from that period, the Knicks have used the same basic style and shades of blue and orange since 1969 with only a few minor modifications, most notably the addition of black trim in the late 90’s.
The Knicks updated their visual identity over two seasons, revising their logo in 2011 and introducing new uniforms in 2012. The update eliminated black from the color scheme and returned the uniform to an older style.
The current primary logo is a recolored version of the previous design introduced in 1992. The design features an orange basketball with the flat ‘New York’ wordmark in blue sitting above the three-dimensional ‘Knicks’ wordmark in orange with a blue outline on top of a grey triangle. The current version uses three colors, and is cleaner and simpler than the previous version which used four colors. The loss of black and heavy use of light grey softens the overall look. The overall design is well-balanced in terms of color and layout. The heavily stylized wordmark is visually appealing.
The Knicks have two alternate logos. The first is known as the ‘subway token’ logo because the shape of the letters resembles the ‘NYC’ design from old New York City Subway tokens. The design, while clever, is nonetheless awkwardly arranged. The other logo features a compressed version of the ‘Knick’s wordmark inside of a basketball.
The Knicks’ current home and road uniforms were introduced in 2012. The update removed the black side panels and trim from the previous uniform set and returned the team to an older style nearly identical to that worn throughout most of the 80’s and 90’s. The major changes are a less-arced team name and partial armhole trim which starts at the shoulders but ends halfway down. The uniform also returned to a more traditional crewneck.
The white home uniform has ‘New York’ with the player number centered below it in orange with a blue outline and blue, orange and gray trim. The blue road uniform has ‘New York’ and the player number in orange with a white outline and orange, white and gray trim. The orange alternate uniform, which was introduced in 2013, has ‘New York’ in blue with a white outline and blue, white and gray trim. The alternate has been considered unlucky since the team has yet to win a game while wearing them.
While the design is clean and generally well-balanced in terms of color and layout, the uniform set loses points for its dated, retro look which has eschewed the modern features of its predecessor and is a downgrade from the team’s previous, more modern design. Rather than pushing the brand forward, the design returns it to the past.
The term ‘Knickerbocker’ derives from a Dutch-American surname and refers to the early Dutch residents of New York—and by extension all New Yorkers (similar to Yankees). The team’s blue-and-orange color scheme, which was later adopted by other New York professional sports teams—the Mets (1962) and the Islanders (1972)—is derived from the flag of the City of New York.
As mentioned above, the Knicks’ secondary ‘subway token’ logo pays homage to the subway system’s old tokens, adopting the typeface from the logo wordmark to match the layout of the ‘NYC’ design. The team’s other alternate logo also pays homage to an alternate logo used by the team 1968-76.
While the Knicks are one of 13 teams whose primary road uniform is blue, they are one of only two (along with the Thunder) that use a blue-and-orange color scheme. The Knicks get credit for originating the look in 1946 as one of the NBA’s original franchises. The ‘Knickerbockers’ name was previously used by one of the earliest baseball teams which also played in New York.
The jerseys use a fairly generic varsity block typeface for the ‘New York’ wordmark. The numbering, which is also used by the Sixers and the Jazz, is equally generic.
The Knicks’ use of color is generally consistent, however the ‘subway token’ alternate logo is the only aspect of the visual identity to still use the color black since removed it from their color palette in 2012.
While the Knicks use the same custom typeface across all three of their logos, the team loses points for using a completely different typeface on their uniforms.
Points to Improve
- Improve the boldness of the visual identity by reintroduce black to the color scheme. Use black as the outline color for the logo allowing blue to have a stronger overall presence as the fill in the triangle.
- Introduce a more modern uniform template. Replace the old-fashioned white trim with black, to improving the contrast between the blue and orange. Alternatively, eliminate the arm trim altogether and replace it with a subtle orange piping.
- Update the logo typeface, giving it a flatter look which could also be used on the jerseys.
- Use the updated ‘Knicks’ wordmark on at least one of the jerseys in place of ‘New York’.
NBA Branding Assessment Ranking
Special thanks to Chris Creamer (sportslogos.net) for the logo and uniform images.
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.