The Grizzlies franchise was founded as the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1995 as part of the NBA’s expansion into Canada. The organization was plagued by poor performance both on and off the court and hurt financially due to the weak Canadian dollar and the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. The team was sold in 2000 and the new owner petitioned the NBA to relocate the franchise. The team moved to Tennessee in 2001 and became the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies wore a teal uniform during most of their tenure in Vancouver, switching to black for what would turn out to be their final season in Canada. The franchise would retain its teal-and-red color scheme and logo template for its first three seasons in Memphis before introducing a completely new look in 2004. The official colors of the current visual identity are Memphis Midnight, Beale Street Blue, Smoke Blue and Grizzlies Gold.
The primary logo is a forward-facing blue grizzly bear with yellow eyes with ‘Memphis’ written straight across the bottom and ‘Grizzlies’ arced downward below that. The bear face design is simple and modern, cleverly arranging the two main colors to create shading and depth. The ‘Memphis’ wordmark is rendered in a custom two-tone typeface with dark blue on the outside and a lighter shade of blue in the middle. The arrangement is awkwardly balanced, stacking the three different elements rather than incorporating them into one integrated design, and lacks any meaningful symmetry. The partial primary logo, the bear face used on its own, is a much cleaner design.
The alternate logo is a blue bear claw grasping a yellow basketball. The design is a simplified and recolored version of the team’s previous alternate logo, a brown bear claw grasping a red basketball, which itself was a modified version of the claw and basketball from the original Grizzlies primary logo. The logo connects well with the grizzly bear motif, and could easily be incorporated into a full-size bear logo, as was the case with the team’s previous primary logo.
The current home and road uniforms were introduced in 2004. The white home uniform features ‘Grizzlies’ in the dark blue version of the two-tone Grizzlies typeface arced across the chest while the dark blue road uniform has ‘Memphis’ in the light blue version. Both uniforms feature ‘Beale Street Blue’ side panels and yellow trim with the bear face logo on the bottom front of the left leg of the shorts. The V-neck collar is capped with a yellow triangle containing the bear face logo, somewhat overcomplicating an otherwise clean, modern look. On the road uniform, whose collar is the same color as the rest of the jersey, the yellow triangle appears tacked on, almost as an afterthought. The uniforms are an upgrade over the team’s previous set both in terms of color and layout.
In 2009, the team introduced a ‘Beale Street Blue’ alternate uniform that uses a different uniform template. The ‘Memphis’ wordmark is identical to that of the primary logo, retaining the oversized ‘M’ and ’S’. The side panels are midnight blue and expand over the front and back of the bottom of the shorts with a yellow stripe that splits at the top and bottom. The shoulders of the jersey are also midnight blue. The bear claw alternate logo appears on the sides of the shorts. The yellow accent below the collar flows well with the design and perfectly balances with the stripes on the sides. The alternate was originally made of a shiny metallic fabric that was replaced with a more conventional material when Adidas transitioned all teams to its Revolution 30 uniforms in 2010.
The ‘Grizzlies’ name was relevant to the franchise’s original home in Vancouver since grizzly bears inhabit the northwest portion of North America. However, the species’ habitat does not currently, nor ever has, extended to the southeast part of the United States which includes Tennessee. The organization loses points for not rebranding upon their move to Memphis, especially considering all the possibilities given the city’s rich musical history. The 2004 visual identity update did attempt to connect symbolically with some aspects of the city’s history and culture. The aptly named ‘Beale Street Blue’ is named for the blues music that originated in the clubs along the city’s most famous street while the team’s typeface is intended to evoke the neon signs adorning those clubs. The organization took a different approach with its ‘Grizzlies Gold’ accent color, paying tribute to the ancient Egyptian capital for whom the Tennessee city was named.
While the Grizzlies are one of 13 teams whose primary road uniform is blue, they are one of four teams (along with the Pacers, Jazz and Pelicans) whose primary color is dark blue as well as one of five (along with the Warriors, Nuggets, Pacers and Jazz) to wear a blue-and-yellow uniform.
The Grizzlies use a unique custom typeface that sets them apart from every other team in the league.
The Grizzlies largely get top marks for consistency. The colors are used consistently on both the logos and uniforms and the custom typeface is used for every application. Consistency could be improved by straightening the wordmark on the jersey for all three uniforms.
Points to Improve
- Rearrange the logo to better incorporate the team name and geographic indicator into the design. Use ‘Grizzlies’ for the wordmark and put ‘Memphis’ above it in smaller letters with the bear face on top, centered below.
- Remove the yellow triangle from the collar on the home and road jerseys.
- Rebrand, choosing a nickname more reflective of the history and cultural legacy of Memphis. Possibilities include extending the Egyptian legacy connection or tapping the city’s blues tradition.
NBA Branding Assessment Ranking
Special thanks to Chris Creamer (sportslogos.net) for the logo and uniform images.
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.