The Thunder franchise was established in 1967 as the Seattle Supersonics. The team played in Washington State for four decades and won their lone championship in 1979. The team was sold in 2006 to the Oklahoma City-based Professional Basketball Club after the Basketball Club of Seattle ownership group, led by Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz, failed to reach an agreement with the city of Seattle to expand and modernize the team’s home arena. The new ownership, led by businessman Clayton Bennett, promised to keep the team in Seattle but when Bennett’s efforts to build a new arena with government funding also failed, he petitioned the league to relocate and the team moved to Oklahoma City in 2008 rebranding as the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The relocation agreement reached between the new ownership, the city of Seattle and the NBA stipulated that the Sonics brand be left behind for use by a future Seattle team. The Thunder retain all of the franchise’s records, including the Sonic’s 1979 championship. However, they have declined to wear the gold championship tab on their uniforms they are entitled to in an effort to distance themselves from their days in Seattle.
Throughout most of their history, the Sonics had one of the most unique visual identities in the NBA: a green-and-yellow color scheme with a fairly distinctive device for displaying the team name on the jersey. The team briefly added red as a secondary color in 1995 before returning to a more traditional look in 2001. The franchise adopted a generic visual identity upon relocating to Oklahoma City. The Thunder color scheme consists of light blue, orange, yellow and navy blue.
The primary logo consists of a shield featuring a partially obscured orange basketball on a blue background with a yellow outline on the left. ’OKC’ is emblazoned across the front and there is a pair of orange and blue streaks behind. The arced ‘Thunder’ wordmark appears above, fitting the curvature of the shield. While the design is generally well-balanced, the combination of the streaks with the stretched look and drop-shadow effect of the wordmark gives the logo a sense of momentum, which somewhat conflicts with the overall two-dimensional, badge-like quality of the rest of the design. The layout and color combination are more reminiscent of a detergent logo than a professional basketball team. While the logo is essentially clean and modern, it has questionable visual appeal. The partial primary logo is the shield design minus the ‘Thunder’ wordmark.
The Thunder currently have no secondary or alternate logos.
The white home uniform has both the ‘Thunder’ wordmark and the player number centered below it in blue with an orange outline and matching blue side panels with orange and yellow trim. The navy blue trim around the collar and armholes disrupts the color balance of the home uniform. The blue road uniform has ‘Oklahoma City’ and the player number in white with a navy blue outline with blue side panels and orange and yellow trim which match the collar and arm trim. The shield logo appears on the bottom of each side of the shorts. The run-of-the-mill layout works better for the home uniform, but the simplistic typeface and compressed nature of the stacked city name is an awkward fit on the road uniform.
In 2012, the Thunder introduced a white-on-navy blue alternate uniform with a fauxback design featuring the team name written vertically in between two stripes with the player number over the left breast.
In March 2015, the team unveiled their white pride uniform which was worn on four Sunday home games toward the end of the season. The sleeved jersey has the ‘OKC’ logo with the player number in blue centered below with a matching blue collar. The player name appears below the player number on the back. The shorts feature the blue and orange streak lines from the team’s logo, making this uniform the most consistent with the team’s visual identity. While the uniform is generally well balanced in terms of color and layout, the sleeved treatment with the blue collar makes this jersey look more like a plain T-shirt than any other of Adidas’ sleeved jerseys. The reversal of the traditional name and number layout comes off as an attempt to make this otherwise plain uniform more interesting.
The Thunder introduced a second, more conventional sunset orange alternate uniform for the 2015-16 season, using the same template as their home and road uniforms, but with ‘OKC’ in navy blue written straight across the chest. The ‘OKC’ wordmark from the logo would have been a better choice as the overly-simplistic nature of the typeface translates into a lackluster look. Like the team’s pride uniform, the sunset alternate also features the player name below the player number on the back.
The ‘Thunder’ nickname is a reference the numerous storms that hit Oklahoma City each year due to its location in Tornado Alley. Oklahoma City was also home to the Army’s now-defunct 45th Infantry Division which went by the nickname ‘Thunderbirds’, which itself was a reference to the state’s Native American heritage.
The team’s color palette is intended to represent different aspects of the Oklahoma sky: blue for daytime, yellow for the sun and the reddish-orange for sunset. However, the sky should be gray during stormy weather when thunder is likely. The blue color is also intended to connect with the flag of the state of Oklahoma, in a bid to extend the fanbase outside of the capital city.
While the organization gets credit for being one of the few teams to rebrand upon relocating to a different city, the execution has been poor. It can be argued whether the ‘Thunder’ nickname is the best possible fit for Oklahoma City, but what is certain is that nothing about the team’s logo represents the city nor does it connect with the nickname in any way.
The Thunder also lose points for their fauxback uniform, which is essentially the mirror-image of a design worn by the Cincinnati Royals (currently the Sacramento Kings) in the 60’s. Why an Oklahoma City team would borrow a design from an unrelated franchise is puzzling and comes off as yet another attempt to establish a unique history separate from the Sonics.
While the Thunder are currently one of 13 teams to wear a blue uniform as their primary road option, they are one of two (along with the Knicks) to wear a blue-and-orange uniform (the Knicks get credit for originating the look back in 1946). The Thunder lose points for replacing what had been a distinctive look—the Sonics’ green-and-yellow color scheme and arched contrasting stripe uniform design were both unique in the league—with a generic layout extremely reminiscent of the Knicks uniforms worn at the time of the rebrand. The Thunder logo is one of the most generic logos in the NBA, featuring no design elements that connect to either the city or the team nickname.
The Thunder are one of only four NBA teams (along with the Jazz, Heat and Magic) to use a singular rather than a plural noun for the team nickname. The Thunder are one of three teams (along with with the Cavs and Thunder) with two alternate uniforms and are one of two teams (along with the Suns) with five different uniform options.
While the Thunder’s use of color is generally consistent, the organization loses points for the lack of standardization when it comes to its typography. The ‘Thunder’ and ‘OKC’ wordmarks on the logo are rendered in two wildly different typefaces, but only the ‘Thunder’ typeface is used on the jerseys. In some cases the style of the numbering seems inconsistent with the overall look of the typeface.
The aforementioned fauxback alternate uniform is also wholly inconsistent with the look of the team’s other uniforms.
Points to Improve
- Redesign the logo to include elements of stormy weather, possibly including clouds and lightning bolts.
- Alternatively, connect the ‘Thunder’ nickname with the sound produced by a stampeding herd of bison, and create a new primary logo depicting a bison. This would also increase the branding consistency, since the team already uses Rumble the Bison as its mascot.
- Select a more unique color palette to set the franchise apart, for example by promoting orange to primary status. Add the dark gray of a stormy sky to increase the relevance of the nickname.
- Choose or commission a more distinctive typeface that can be used consistently across all applications from logo to jersey lettering and numbering.
- Position ‘Oklahoma’ above the player number and ‘City’ below—the way the New Orleans Hornets did for their final home game during their two-season stint in Oklahoma City—to better balance the layout of the road uniform.
- Alternatively, use the ‘OKC’ logo treatment from the pride uniform on the rest of the jerseys.
NBA Branding Assessment Ranking
This assessment is 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.