The Pistons franchise was founded in 1941 as the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons by Fred Zollner and his sister Janet, owners of the Zollner Corporation, a foundry which supplied pistons to manufacturers of automobiles, farm equipment and motorboats. Initially a member of of the National Basketball League (NBL), the Pistons later joined the Basketball Association of America (BAA) in 1948 as the Fort Wayne Pistons. A year later Fred Zollner helped to arrange the merger between NBL and BAA which created the NBA. As the new league grew, Zollner decided his team needed to play in a larger market to be profitable and the franchise relocated to Michigan and became the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons have won three NBA championships, including back-to-back titles during the infamous Bad Boys era of the 1980’s. The Pistons’ most recent title was in 2004.
Throughout most of their history the Pistons’ basic visual identity has largely centered around a simple basketball logo and blue uniforms ranging from navy to powder blue with red trim. The notable exception came in the mid 90’s when the team adopted a teal look and added a flaming horse to their logo and uniform.
The team reverted to its previous blue-and-red color scheme in 2001, introducing uniforms more in line with their historic look.
The current primary logo, which was introduced in 2005, is a modern update to the logo used from 1979-1996, but with the typeface used for the ‘Pistons’ wordmark in the flaming horse logos used from 1996 to 2005. The logo consists of a red basketball, outlined in blue, with an arched ‘Detroit Pistons’ wordmark written across it. The logo is moderately modern, mostly due to its typeface and generally well-balanced in terms of color and layout. While overly-simplistic, the logo is visually interesting due to its modern and distinctive typeface. Selective use of an additional navy blue outline creates a drop-shadow effect.
The alternate logo is the ‘P’ from the primary logo wordmark, enlarged and recolored, with the ‘D’ from the wordmark plugged into the middle.
The current home and road uniforms, which were introduced in 2001, are modern versions of the uniforms the team wore from 1981 to 1995.
The white home uniform has the ‘Pistons’ wordmark with the player number centered below it in red with a blue outline. The side panels are red on the front, blue on the back and have a white stripe running down the middle. The blue road uniform has the ‘Detroit’ wordmark and player number in red with a white outline. The side panels are red with a white stripe. The P logo appears on the front of bottom left leg of the shorts. The uniforms are simple yet modern, especially compared to the older uniforms which they are based on. The split treatment of the side panels on the home uniforms creates a somewhat unbalanced look.
The navy blue pride uniform, which was introduced in 2013, uses the same template as the other two uniforms, but with a couple of minor differences. The city of Detroit’s nickname, ‘Motor City’, appears across the chest in white with a red outline, while the player number is red with a white outline. The side panels have been broken up, with the red fill starting halfway down the jersey and connecting with the waistband of the shorts. The rest of the panel is accented with a red outline. The side panel treatment is an even more modern take on the already modern template.
The ‘Chrome’ gray alternate uniform, which was introduced in October 2015, has the ‘Detroit’ wordmark and player number in navy with a white outline. The side panels are navy with a white stripe.
The ‘Pistons’ nickname is a perfect fit for a city known as the automotive capital of the world. While the ‘Pistons’ nickname originated from a piston supplier, the team decided to keep the name after relocating to Detroit because of that city’s relevance to the auto industry. The city of Detroit is known as the Motor City, or Motown.
The blue-and-red color scheme have no particular connection to either the city of Detroit or the team nickname. The silver/gray color used for the pride uniform evokes the color of the raw materials from which pistons are made.
The Pistons are one of 13 teams whose primary road uniform is blue and also one of four teams to wear some combination of blue and red. However, the Pistons get credit for originating the look in their days playing in Fort Wayne.
The Pistons get mostly high marks for consistency. The team’s custom typeface is used throughout all applications and the wordmarks on the jerseys appear exactly as they are on the primary logo. The alternate logo also perfectly combines elements from the primary logo. However, the team’s new gray alternate does not match the official color scheme.
Points to Improve
- Adopt the side panel layout from the alternate uniform on the home, road and alternate uniforms to create a better balance in terms of layout and color.
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.