The Phoenix Suns were established as an expansion team in 1968. While the Suns have the NBA’s fourth best all-time winning percentage, they have never won an NBA championship and have only reached the NBA Finals twice.
The Suns’ visual identity has long consisted of a purple-and-orange color scheme and a streaking sun logo with a symmetrical ‘Suns’ wordmark. The current logo motif has been in use since 1992 with two minor updates since. The Suns have worn purple uniforms with orange trim and have alternately featured an arched ‘Phoenix’ wordmark or a slanted design with streak lines. The team’s most recognizable uniform, worn from 1992-2000, incorporated the streaking sun logo on the front of the jersey.
The current visual identity has been in use since 2013 when an updated logo and new uniforms were introduced. The traditional purple has been darkened and black has been given a more prominent position in the color palette.
The current primary logo is a recolored and slightly revised version of the 2000 template, which itself was an update to the logo introduced in 1992. The logo features an orange streaking sun inside of a black parallelogram with ‘Phoenix’ and ‘Suns’ in the bottom portion of another parallelogram. The 2013 update maintains all of the elements of the previous logo, but changed the purple-on-gray color scheme to black-on-black, rotated the orientation of the ball and updated the ‘Suns’ wordmark. The revisions to the streaking sun are an improvement because it better matches the direction indicated by the streak lines but the all-black recolor makes for a less visually appealing outcome. The formerly flat ‘Suns’ wordmark with a drop shadow has been replaced by a beveled design that conflicts with the generally flat nature of the rest of the design. The partial primary logo is the streaking sun illustration used on its own and is a nice update to a classic design.
The secondary logo is a recolored and slightly revised version of the rising phoenix logo introduced in 2000. While all aspects have been tweaked, the basic design remains unchanged. The flames rising from the basketball give the impression of a phoenix bird spreading its wings. The ‘PHX’ wordmark has been updated to reflect the beveled nature of the new typeface and the purple and gray have been darkened. The simplified basketball from the primary logo is used here as well. The simpler design is well-balanced and does a slightly better job portraying the bird-like qualities of the design.
The alternate logo is a bizarre mishmash of several elements from the other logos. An orange S, roughly fitting the same footprint as the parallelogram from the primary logo, paradoxically exists both in front of and behind a black silhouette of the streaking sun design, whose streak lines have been repositioned to ‘neatly’ fit into the bottom left corner. The design feels forced and pales in comparison to the much more well thought-out primary and secondary logos.
The current uniforms are a modern update of the Suns uniforms worn from 1992-2000 that featured the streaking sun logo across the chest. The new layout also features a slanted wordmark across the chest but with the slanted player number where the sun used to be.
The white home uniform features the ‘Suns’ wordmark and streak lines in orange with the player number in black while the dark purple road uniform has the ‘Phoenix’ wordmark and streak lines in white with the player number in orange. Both uniforms use the same combination of orange and black trim. The orange alternate uniform has the ‘Suns’ wordmark and streak lines in white with the player number in black. The collar trim is the same as the other two uniforms, but the trim on the sides the jersey and back of the shorts are black. The sleeves were removed for the 2015-16 season. The shorts on all three uniforms feature a winged sun design on the bottom of each side.
The Suns get points for replacing the previous uniform design, which because of its oversized gray side panels had a faux layered, jersey-on-jersey look. However, they also lose points for a poor execution of a revamped design based on a classic look.
The two-tone collar is oddly asymmetrical. The rear black portion continues forward past the midpoint of the shoulder before joining with the orange front part, creating an unbalanced look. The stripe which wraps around the back of the shorts before shooting down both legs is similar to the previous-generation Raptors uniform and oddly reminiscent of a gun holster. The winged sun design on the shorts is intended to recall the sunburst from the first Suns uniforms, but with wings representing the phoenix bird. However, the wings are too big, traveling up approximately a quarter of the front and back of each leg. The element is distracting and throws off the overall balance of the uniform layout. The most distracting element of the design is the lettering, with its beveled features and quilt-like application on the jerseys. While certainly clever, it is neither clean nor simple.
The gray pride uniform, introduced in 2014, features the team’s original uniform wordmark with the player number centered below rendered in the current typeface. Both are black with an orange outline. The sunburst design on the side of the shorts from the team’s original uniforms is also used. The same black-and-orange collar trim from the other three uniforms is used here too. The design is generally well-balanced in terms of color and layout.
A second, black alternate uniform, dubbed a civic pride uniform in the team’s press release, was added for the 2015-16 season featuring the ‘PHX’ wordmark from the team’s secondary logo in black with a white outline, with the player number centered below in white with an orange outline. The back portion of the collar is orange while the front portion as well as the side trim is purple. The design is moderately well-balanced in terms of layout but not color, mostly owing to the black-on-black lettering heavily contrasted with the white player number.
The ‘Suns’ nickname is entirely fitting because the city of Phoenix is known as ‘The Valley of the Sun’ due to its location in the desert.
While the color orange matches the fiery sun imagery, neither the former purple nor the current black background make sense for the logo since the sun would not be seen high in the sky at sunset or night time.
The phoenix bird logo connects not only with the city’s mythical namesake but ties in nicely with the flaming hot imagery of the sun.
The design of the pride uniform as well as the civic pride uniform are both homages to older Suns uniforms.
The Suns are one of four teams (along with the Lakers, Kings and Hornets) to wear a purple road uniform, but are the only team with a purple-and-orange color scheme. The Suns are the only team with two ‘pride’ uniforms making them one of three teams (along with the Raptors and Thunder) with five different uniform options.
The Suns get low marks for consistency. While the team’s color scheme has historically been and officially remains purple-and-orange with gray and black as accent colors, the 2013 visual identity update promoted black to the forefront while diminishing the role of purple. The primary logo eliminated purple altogether, and the new alternate logo is only orange and black. Only the secondary logo continues to use purple. Looking at the current primary logo, one would assume the primary road uniform would be black or orange, but those two colors are used for alternates. While the road uniform remains purple, the home and alternate uniforms use no purple at all. With the addition of the black ‘civic pride’ uniform, the Suns now have one uniform for each color in their color palette, however the use of three different layouts dilutes the overall consistency of the branding. While the gray pride uniform uses the Suns’ original typeface for the lettering, it uses the current typeface for the numbering rather than the era-appropriate version. Interestingly, only the black civic pride uniform uses a typeface for the numbering which matches the look of the typeface used for the wordmark. The wordmark used in the logo is beveled, while the application on the jerseys is flat with a streaked gradient.
Points to Improve
- Return purple to its former place of prominence in the color palette and reduce the use of black to a mere accent color in order to increase consistency and better connect the historical color scheme with the general impression of the brand. Alternately remove all traces of purple and fully embrace a black-and-orange color scheme.
- Flatten out the typeface applications by removing the bevels from the logos and the streaks from the jerseys to create a cleaner, more consistent look.
- Eliminate the unnecessary alternate S logo. The primary and secondary logos are strong enough to stand on their own.
- Change the pride uniform from gray to purple, to better connect with the historic significance of that uniform.
- Change the PHX on the civic pride uniform to white with an orange outline to match the player number in order to increase the overall color balance of the uniform as well as better connect it with the 90’s black Suns alternate uniform it was inspired by.
NBA Branding Assessment Ranking
Special thanks to Chris Creamer (sportslogos.net), Conrad Burry (conradburry.com) and Jordi Kodrinsky (Twitter / Flickr) for the logo and uniform images. 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.