The Wizards franchise was established as an expansion team in 1961 as the Chicago Packers. The team rebranded a year later as the Chicago Zephyrs and then became the Baltimore Bullets upon relocating to Maryland the following year. The team would carry the ‘Bullets’ moniker with them when they moved to a new facility just outside of Washington D.C. in 1973, first as the Capital Bullets and then a year later as the Washington Bullets. The Bullets went to the NBA Finals four times in the 1970’s, winning their only championship in 1978. The organization would retire the ‘Bullets’ nickname over team owner Abe Pollin’s concerns about the name’s association with gun violence, which was especially prevalent in the city at the time. In 1997, the team rebranded as the Washington Wizards.
Upon rebranding, the team adopted a blue-and-gold color scheme and introduced a wizard logo, whose forked beard created the shape of a W over his black tunic. The rebrand was never fully embraced by the Washington fanbase and starting in 2011 the organization began to return to many aspects of the franchise’s former visual identity.
The team reverted to its previous red-white-and-blue color scheme in 2011, introducing uniforms loosely based on the Bullets uniforms worn from 1974-1986. The blue-and-gold wizard was also recolored, making him look more like Papa Smurf than Merlin. The wizard logo was abruptly replaced between the end of the 2014-15 regular season and the playoffs.
The current primary logo takes the team’s previous alternate logo, which was introduced in 2011, and places it in a roundel with ‘Washington’ at the top and ‘Wizards’ at the bottom with a red, white and blue striping pattern filling in the background. The overall design is well-balanced in terms of color and layout, however the roundel treatment complicates an otherwise simple, modern design. The core design depicts the Washington Monument with a star above it inside of a basketball. The design effectively conveys ‘Washington basketball’. The partial primary logo is the basketball design used on its own and is the stronger of the two designs.
The secondary logo depicts the initials for the District of Columbia in lowercase letters, with an arm extending upward from the ‘d’ toward a red basketball. While intended as an homage to the old Bullets logo whose two ‘l’s formed a pair of hands reaching for a rebound, the design looks amateurish compared to the eminently more modern primary logo.
The current uniforms were introduced in 2011 and slightly altered in 2013. The revised version removed the back horizontal stripe to improve the visibility of the player number.
The white home uniform has the ‘Wizards’ wordmark in blue with the player number centered below it in red over a over a blue stripe. The shoulder section and side panels are red. The red home uniform has the ‘Washington’ wordmark in white with the player number in blue over a over a white stripe. The shoulder section and side panels are blue. The sides of the shorts feature a star which matches the uniform color but contrasts with the side panel color above it and the accent color below it.
The blue alternate uniform, which was introduced in 2014, follows essentially the same template as the other two uniforms, but with a couple of changes. The jersey lacks the center horizontal stripe and the design on the side of the shorts is different. The red stripe running down the sides splits in two, creating space for the basketball logo at the bottom.
The uniforms are generally well-balanced in terms of color distribution, but the large horizontal striping creates a somewhat dated look in terms of layout. The alternate uniform is a slight improvement over the other two.
The Wizards unveiled their Baltimore Pride pride uniform in October 2015 which will be worn six times during the 2015-2016 season. The design is based on the Baltimore Bullets uniforms worn from 1969-73, but with a few changes, most notably the addition of sleeves, the reversal of the white and blue stripes as well as width of those stripes, and the addition of the Wizards’ partial primary on the jersey. The jersey also uses the Wizards’ current uniform numbering and, unlike the original, gives it a white outline. Due to the throwback nature of the design the uniform not only looks out-of-date, but the design is poorly balanced in terms of layout.
The ‘Wizards’ nickname holds no significance for the city of Washington, D.C. and was chosen solely for its alliterative qualities. While he original blue-and-gold color scheme attempted to connect with the popular image wizards, the current red-white-and-blue color scheme better represents a team playing in the capital of the United States. The Wizards get credit for retiring their oddly-recolored wizard logo in favor of a design more reflective of the nation’s capital.
The ‘d.c.’ secondary is a nod to the old Bullets logo, whose two lower-case ’l’s were stylized as a pair of hands going for a rebound. The design is a variation of the letter ‘d’ from of the ‘Wizards’ jersey wordmark, which along with the ‘h’ in the ‘Washington’ jersey wordmark, incorporate the shape of the Washington Monument.
While the team’s pride uniform pays homage to a uniform from the franchise’s past, a ‘Baltimore Pride’ uniform is a questionable decision from a branding perspective for an organization that now represents Washington D.C. Why label it a ‘Baltimore Pride’ uniform and then add the ‘d.c.’ logo the shorts?
The Wizards are one of five teams to wear a red uniform as their primary road option, one of four teams with a color scheme using some combination of red and blue, and one of five teams with a blue alternate uniform. The Wizards are one of only two teams (along with the Blazers) to feature striping on the front portion of their jerseys. The Wizards lose points for becoming the second team in two years to place their primary logo inside a roundel.
The Wizards generally receive high marks for consistency in terms of color, however while the team uses the same typeface across all applications, the logo uses only uppercase letters while the jerseys use only lowercase letters.
Points to Improve
- Retire the secondary logo.
- Rework the primary logo, removing the core design from the roundel and placing the wordmark at the bottom, to create a shape reminiscent of the U.S. Capitol building.
- Rebrand, choosing a nickname more reflective of the history and cultural legacy of Washington D.C. Acquire the ‘Washington Generals’ nickname used by the Harlem Globetrotters for their adversaries. The name would carry deep historical meaning.
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.