The Hawks franchise was established in 1946 as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, a member of the National Basketball League (NBL), representing Rock Island and Moline, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa. In 1949, the team became an NBA team following merger of the NBL and the Basketball Association of America (BAA). When the team relocated to Milwaukee in 1951, they shortened their nickname to ‘Hawks’, becoming the Milwaukee Hawks and replaced their Native American imagery with that of the bird of prey. The team relocated once more in 1955 to Missouri, where they won their only NBA championship as the St. Louis Hawks in 1958. The team moved south the Georgia in 1968 becoming the Atlanta Hawks.
The Atlanta Hawks have had a number of different looks over the years. Throughout most of that time the team colors were red, yellow and white. That changed in 2007 when the team switched to a navy-and-red look, abandoning their unique color scheme to become one of many NBA teams to don some combination of red and blue.
Starting in 2014, the Hawks began a slow transition to an updated visual identity. Before the end of the 2013-14 season, the Hawks unveiled a modernized version of their classic ‘Pac-Man’ logo (so called because it resembles the video game character in the act of eating a power pellet). Initially an alternate logo, it became the basis for a new primary logo which was unveiled after the 2014-15 season, along with a radically new uniform set.
The primary logo is an updated version of the team’s logo used from 1972-1995, placed inside a roundel with ‘Atlanta Hawks’ at the top and ‘Basketball Club’ at the bottom. The partial primary logo is the same, minus the roundel. The basic design is a great example of a modernized version of a classic logo. The size of the hawk profile relative to the encompassing roundel does, however, diminishes the overall balance, as does the the lack of an additional contrasting color. The partial primary logo is the hawk head minus the roundel.
The secondary logo is a winged basketball on fire with something resembling the letter A emerging from the flames. It is intended to invoke a phoenix rising from the ashes, an allusion to the city of Atlanta’s rebirth after being burned to ground during the Civil War but comes across as a confusing mishmash of disjointed symbolism. While the logo is simple and modern, it has little inherent visual appeal.
The Hawks’ custom typeface is simple yet distinct, with small midline serifs on certain letters. The lettering carries over some stylistic elements from the previous typeface, most notably the letters N and S. The letter A has left and right serif variations while the alternate, disconnected A borrows from an older typeface which invokes a bird’s beak or talon. The numbering is consistent with the lettering.
The uniforms use a sublimated triangle pattern which, in theory, is supposed to create a V-shaped design intended to evoke an attacking hawk. In practice, the fabric gives the impression of a quilted puffer jacket and is overly busy and distracting. The pattern is used on the entirety of the jersey but only on the right side of the shorts, creating an uneven finish. The official names for the uniform colors are Torch Red, Georgia Granite Gray and Volt Green.
Both the white home uniforms and black road uniforms have ‘Atlanta’ in red across the chest with Volt trim. The red alternate uniform continues the tradition of displaying ‘ATL’ on the chest. All of the uniforms use Volt Green for the numbering. The team name is written vertically down the left side of the shorts.
The use of neon yellow/green with red is a jarring combination. The Hawks worked with Adidas, Nike, Under Armour and Stance to provide matching shoes and socks to create a uniform head-to-toe look. All of the players wear Volt Green laces in their shoes. The black and red uniforms can be mixed and matched to create two-tone looks on the road. The overall style, while modern in its approach and striking in its use of color, is more likely to become passé rather than stand the test of time as a future classic.
The ‘Hawks’ nickname has no particular significance for the city of Atlanta. While the alternate ‘phoenix’ logo does somewhat resemble the city of Atlanta’s flag, the idea would seem to be most relevant to the Phoenix Suns.
The name ‘Torch Red’ alludes to the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta, but is little more than a retcon to add some meaning to the team’s primary color which predates the Olympics by 24 years. The ‘Georgia Granite Gray’ is another attempt to tell a story when in reality the team is capitalizing on the dark gray uniform trend. The Volt Green is intended to be an homage to the brief period during the ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich era when the Hawks wore blue and neon green uniforms; however the color currently used is more of a highlighter yellow with a green tinge than a true neon green.
While the Hawks are one of five teams to wear black as their primary road uniform option and one of five teams with a red alternate uniform, their red-and-neon color scheme, sublimated triangle pattern, head-to-toe coordination and the mix-and-match nature of the uniforms are all unique in the NBA. The Hawks do lose points for becoming the fourth team in two years to place their primary logo inside a roundel. The ‘Hawks’ moniker is among the most generic in sports and is widely used by collegiate and high school teams.
The Hawks get a mixed grade for consistency. On one hand, the custom typeface is used consistently on both the primary logo and the uniform lettering and numbering. However, while the logo set is rendered only in red and white, the uniforms use additional colors like gray and neon yellow/green, that make for an erratic visual surprise. It goes without saying that the colors used for the primary logo and primary road uniform should match. The use of those colors, however, from the uniform down to the socks and shoes is the most consistent of any team in the NBA.
Points to Improve
- Relegate the sublimated triangle pattern to the sides of the jersey and shorts to create a more balanced and less distracting look.
- Remove the ‘Hawks’ wordmark from the shorts and add it to one of the jerseys in place of ‘Atlanta’.
- Replace Volt Green with a golden yellow to improve the color balance and better connect with the team’s historical visual identity.
- Improve consistency by making the red uniform the team’s primary road option and keep the black uniform, or introduce a yellow version as the alternate.
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.