The 76ers franchise was established as the Syracuse Nationals in 1946 and rebranded as the Philadelphia 76ers—generally referred to as the Sixers—upon relocating to Pennsylvania in 1963. The franchise has won three NBA championships with the first coming in Syracuse in 1955 and the other two in Philadelphia in 1967 and 1983. The Sixers also hold the record for most losses in a regular NBA season at 73 and are tied with Cleveland Cavaliers for longest losing streak in NBA history at 26 games. After years of trades and losing records (viewed by many observers as tanking) the team has recently begun to amass multiple draft picks and the organization has once again updated the team’s branding to signal a new chapter for the franchise.
While the Sixers have only used two basic logo designs throughout their long history, the team has had thirteen different looks on the court, mostly involving some combination of red, white and blue with the either ‘Sixers’ or ‘Phila’ on the jersey. The notable exception was an 11-year period from 1997-2009 when the team switched to a flashy gold logo and wore black uniforms.
The current logo set was unveiled in May 2015 and new uniforms followed in June. The new visual identity goes into effect at the beginning of the 2015-16 season.
The primary logo is a slightly updated version of the classic white basketball logo used throughout most of the Sixers’ history, inside of a blue roundel with the ‘Philadelphia’ written on top and six stars on the bottom. The seams point up and to the right, giving the impression that the ball is flying through the air. The design is generally well-balanced, however the seam that crosses the ’s’ decreases its legibility. The balance of color is diminished by the limited use of the color red. The partial primary logo is the white basketball minus the roundel. While the updated version of the classic ‘Sixers’ logo is more modern that its predecessor, the overall look remains dated (although intentionally so) due to the old-fashioned nature of the numbers used in the design.
The secondary logos are variations on elements from the primary logo—the circle of thirteen stars representing the original thirteen colonies of the United States surrounding the ’76’ or used by itself.
The tertiary logo is a caricature of Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers and an important figure in Philadelphia’s history, wearing patriotic colors and dribbling a basketball. Nicknamed ‘Dribbling Ben,’ this logo was originally used on merchandise when Philadelphia hosted NBA All-Star Weekend in 2002. This slightly updated version features a red-and-white ’76’ on Ben’s coat. This playful, cartoonish design works well in its capacity as an third-in-line design.
The white home uniform features the abbreviated ‘Phila’ wordmark on the chest with the player number centered below it in blue with blue side panels outlined in white and red. The trim around the collar and armholes are red, white and blue. The blue road uniform has ‘Phila’ and the player number in white with white side panels outlined in red and white and matching red and white trim. The red alternate uniform has ‘Sixers’ and the player number in white with white side panels outlined in blue and white and matching blue and white trim. The side panels on all three uniforms feature four stars on the right and three on the left of the jerseys and three each on the shorts; the color of the stars match the color of the uniform.
The current uniforms incorporate elements from three previous 76er uniform styles, resulting in a meta-throwback look. The ‘Phila’ wordmark and blue uniform are an homage to the Wilt Chamberlain era when the franchise won its first championship in Philadelphia in 1966-67. The red alternate as well as the contrasting red, white and blue V-neck collars honor the Dr. J era team that led the Sixers to their second championship in 1982-83. The stars on the sides are taken from the uniforms worn during the 1976-77 season, a significant milestone for a team named for the founding year of the nation, 200 years earlier.
By their very nature as fauxback uniforms, incorporating elements from uniforms worn in the 60s, 70s and 80s, the current uniform set has an old-fashioned look. The stars in particular look dated and give the design an unnecessarily busy design. While the placement of seven stars on one side and six on the other is certainly clever, it disrupts the otherwise balanced design. The current look would perhaps be better suited for an pride uniform. Relying too heavily on nostalgia and cobbling together pieces from the past point to a brand has run out of ideas. Rather than pushing the brand forward, this design sends it backwards.
While the red-white-and-blue color scheme is anything but unique, the 76ers do have the biggest claim of any team to the colors of the United States flag since the franchise’s nickname references the single most important event in American history. The ‘76ers’ moniker get top marks for relevancy owing to Philadelphia’s role as the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The patriotic nickname holds far greater significance for Philadelphia than ‘Nationals’ did for Syracuse, and is infinitely more meaningful than that of the city’s previous franchise, the Philadelphia Warriors.
The 76ers are the only NBA team and one of only two major American professional sports teams to be named after a year. The ’76’ in the primary logo is distinctive and instantly recognizable—no doubt a major reason the organization revived it in 2009—but the Sixers lose points for becoming the third team in two years to place their primary logo inside a roundel.
The generic sports typeface on their jerseys also hurts the Sixers in terms of setting apart their identity. The team swapped primary and alternate uniform colors (red and blue, respectively) in their 2015 refresh so that the Sixers are now one of 13 NBA teams to use blue for their primary road uniform—meaning the team actually became less distinct with their latest update. By comparison, the dynamic lettering and black, red and gold color scheme of the Allen Iverson era Sixers would score higher.
The jerseys use a generic varsity block sports typeface for the player numbering which is also used by the Knicks and Jazz.
The balance and distribution of color is consistent between the primary logo and uniform, as is the use of stars as a design element. However, the Sixers lose points for using different typefaces in their logo and on their uniforms.
Points to Improve
- Fix the line intersecting with the ’s’ in the logo to make it cleaner and more legible.
- Use subtle, same-color sublimated stars on the side panel to make the uniforms simpler, cleaner and more modern.
- Improve uniqueness and consistency by retiring the roundel element from the primary logo but leaving the city name arced around the white basketball design. Split the name, leaving ’Phila’ at the top and ‘delphia’ at the bottom with stars separating them on either side. Render the outer design in red to add balance.
- Improve uniqueness and consistency by commissioning a custom typeface based on the ‘76ers’ wordmark to be used on the uniforms.
NBA Branding Assessment Ranking
Special thanks to Chris Creamer (sportslogos.net) for the logo and uniform images used throughout this work. Other images have been taken from the team’s website or Twitter feed.
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.