The Rockets franchise was established in 1967 as the San Diego Rockets and the team carried the nickname with them when they relocated to Houston in 1971, becoming the Houston Rockets. The team has reached the NBA Finals four times, twice in the 80’s (losing both times to the Celtics), and twice in the 90’s where they won back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995 behind the play of NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon.
The Rockets have had a number of wildly different logos throughout their history, including a crudely drawn cartoon of a basketball player wearing a jet pack during their first season in Houston. The team wore green and yellow uniforms in San Diego before adopting its classic red-and-yellow color scheme upon relocating to Houston. The Rockets made only minor adjustments to this look for the next 24 years. In the 90’s the team made a radical change, replacing its traditional look with a navy blue-red-and-gray color scheme and introducing a logo with an angry cartoonish rocket and beveled typeface.
The team’s visual identity was overhauled in 2003, introducing a new primary logo along with new uniforms. The Rockets returned to red as their primary color, but added silver as their main accent color.
The primary logo is a large rocket-shaped letter R, with ‘Houston’ on the left and ‘Rockets’ on the right. The partial primary logo is the R design used on its own without the city and team names. The R logo features streaks intended to give it the appearance of blasting off but looks more like paint running down a wall. The circle surrounding the bottom portion of the R is perhaps intended to give the impression of a rocket breaking through the clouds, but more closely resembles a missile leaving an underground launch facility. The logo is simple, modern and well-balanced in terms of color and layout but bottom streaks detract from the otherwise clean nature of the design.
The custom typeface builds on the motif of the ‘Rockets’ wordmark from the previous logo in which certain parts of the letters are designed to resemble rockets.
The secondary logo, which was introduced in 2014, is an H/R monogram made using the same typeface from the wordmark. The rightward slant is an odd choice since the three rocket-like vertical lines should be pointing upward. While the logo certainly represents the ‘Houston Rockets’ team name, it is likely that most people’s first reaction will be ‘human resources’.
The white home uniform has the ‘Rockets’ wordmark and player number centered below it in red with matching red trim. The red road uniform has the ‘Rockets’ wordmark and player number in white with silver trim. The distinctive double rings around the arms and on the sides of the shorts create a futuristic, if not somewhat Jetsons-like, look. The R logo appears inside the rings on the bottom of each side of the shorts. The overall design is clean, modern and well-balanced in terms of color and layout.
The gray alternate uniform, which was introduced for the 2015-16 season has the ‘Rockets’ wordmark in red with the player number in black. The side panels feature a black-and-white pattern modeled after NASA’s Gemini-Titan II rocket, with red trim around the collar and the bottom of the shorts. The abbreviated V-neck collar leaves space for a red R logo. The uniform is modern, well-balanced and novel but the black bands connecting the sleeves create the appearance that the player is wearing a backpack.
The red-and-yellow ‘Clutch City’ pride uniform, also introduced for the 2015-16 season, is an update to the team’s former alternate uniform, worn from 2009 to 2014, which itself was a modern update to the team’s classic uniform design from used from the mid-70’s through 1994 when the team won its first championship. The shirt features the same neckline as the alternate uniform with a yellow R logo. The city’s sports nickname ‘Clutch City’ appears in white above and below the yellow player number. The Rockets’ lose points for replacing the previous clean layout and modern typeface with a more cluttered look featuring an outdated typeface.[*Note: The Rockets unveiled a second, black alternate uniform in September 2015, which will not be worn until the 2016-17 season. As such, it will not be included in the current season’s assessment. ]
The ‘Rockets’ nickname is a perfect fit for Houston, which is home to NASA’s mission control center. The franchise is a rare example of a relocated team’s nickname being more appropriate at its new location (Houston) than its former home (San Diego).
The red-and-silver color scheme have no particular relevance to the city of Houston, however rockets are generally painted white or, if left unpainted, become a rusty red color.
As mentioned above the Rockets’ gray alternate uniform is literally modeled on a rocket design making it the single most referential uniform design in the league.
The ‘Clutch City’ nickname adorning the pride uniforms came about during the Rockets’ first championship run in 1994. After blowing big fourth-quarter leads in two consecutive games at home the Houston Chronicle printed an article with the headline “Choke City”. The team came back to win the best-of-seven semi-final series, and then went on to win game 6 and 7 of the Finals on their home court after going down 2-3 against the Knicks, the name ‘Clutch City’ was born. The nickname has since been used by other Houston area teams, increasing its overall relevancy. The typeface used for the ‘Clutch City’ wordmark is the same as that used on the team’s jerseys in 1994.
While the Rockets are one of five teams whose primary road uniform is red, they are the only team with a red-and-silver color scheme.
The team’s alternate logo bears a striking resemblance to the logo of clothing brand H&M.
The Rockets get mixed marks for consistency. Despite being the primary accent color, silver does not appear in either the logo set or on the home uniform. The color black, which is only used as a drop shadow on the logos is found only on the gray alternate uniform. The pride uniform incorporates yellow but is acceptable for a throwback design honoring the team’s history.
The ring element from the primary logo is also used as a design element on the primary uniforms creating a consistent look. However the secondary slanted H/R logo is inconsistent with the vertical nature of the primary logo and wordmarks.
The Rockets’ typeface is used in most applications. The pride uniform uses the current typeface for the player number but paired with an older, era-appropriate typeface for the lettering, creating an inconsistent look.
Had I written this assessment in 2003 when the Rockets first unveiled their current visual identity, they would have received a perfect 5.0 for its use of color and typeface. However, with each successive uniform and logo unveiling, the team has diluted its branding consistency.
Points to Improve
- Incorporate silver into the logo set, possibly as an outline in addition to or in place of the black drop shadows.
- Straighten the H/R secondary logo to be consistent with the look of the primary logo and wordmarks.
- Introduce a silver version of the current primary template to be worn as an alternate or replacement home uniform.
- Increase consistency by incorporating black accents on the primary home and road uniforms.
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.