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An NBA player has suggested that, because of the league’s disproportionate number of black players (something that some might argue is endemic of some sort of systemic racism against non-blacks), the league’s logo should be changed to honor black players.
In an Instagram post published Wednesday, Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets specifically argued that “BLACK KINGS BUILT THE LEAGUE,” and so the NBA’s logo should be changed to reflect this somewhat dubious assertion.
At the moment, the NBA’s decades-old logo is comprised of a silhouette of a tall man playing basketball. No race is observable, though the silhouette is reportedly based on a photo of former Los Angeles Lakers star Jerry West, a white man.
This might be an unpopular opinion, but I like Jerry West as the NBA Logo. pic.twitter.com/1hgV9LSKOi
— In My Mind (@MeAloneInMyMind) February 24, 2021
However, the designer of the logo, Alan Siegel, has long stressed that the NBA was never intent on paying tribute to West specifically, but rather to all players.
“They want to institutionalize it rather than individualize it. It’s become such a ubiquitous, classic symbol and focal point of their identity and their licensing program that they don’t necessarily want to identify it with one player,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2010.
Nor had he been intent on honoring West when designing the logo. Rather, he’d simply stumbled on a photo of the NBA star and decided to trace it.
“It had a nice flavor to it, so I took that picture and we traced it. It was perfect. It was vertical and it had a sense of movement. It was just one of those things that clicked. Nobody else said anything. And when we did the publicity, nobody ever asked whether it was Jerry West,” he said to the Times in 2010.
But Irving and his supporters would clearly like to change this by replacing West’s race-less silhouette with a picture of deceased Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant.
View this post on Instagram
But were the photo above to become the NBA’s new logo, race would certainly be observable, though that does in fact appear to be Irving’s goal.
Irving isn’t alone in his desire to effectively racialize the NBA’s logo. After Bryant’s death in early 2020, a Vancouver resident identified as Nick M. launched a petition “to immortalize him forever as the new NBA Logo.”
As of February 2021, the petition contains over three million signatures and counting. According to SB Nation, it’d also earned “shares and endorsements from celebrities like Snoop Dogg, T.I., Justin Bieber, Usher, Vanessa Hudgens, Adam Levine, Meek Mill and Naomi Campbell.”
More than 3 million people have signed this petition started by a teenager in Canada, asking the @NBA to change their logo to pay tribute to Kobe Bryant. It’s now one of the largest’s petitions in our site’s history. #KobeBryant #RIPKobe #RIPMamba https://t.co/rhYDUtxzgt
— Change.org (@Change) January 31, 2020
“All of this is for Kobe! I wish Kobe was still here and I never had to make this petition. But sadly that isn’t the case. My condolences go out to the Bryant family and everyone who was involved in this accident,” Nick said to SB Nation.
Speaking with The Athletic at the time, Charlotte Hornets players Bismack Biyombo and Miles Bridges expressed agreement with the idea.
“(Making him the logo), it’s an appreciation of what the guy has done for the game of basketball, and that’s what I think we all should be thinking about,” Biyombo said.
“Yeah, I definitely think he should be the logo for sure. You could see the shock around the league when it happened. How many people it affected, players. It affected everybody in the NBA. So I feel like no player has had an impact — besides MJ — on anybody like Kobe. So I feel like he should definitely be the logo,” Bridges added.
The desire to immortalize a great man like Bryant is understandable, but whether or not this great man would want to racialize the NBA’s logo is another question altogether.
Bryant stood out among black athletes for his willingness to buck the dominant racial narrative. For instance, he initially refused to accept the narrative that shooting “victim” Trayvon Martin had been a victim of racism.
“I won’t react to something just because I’m supposed to, because I’m an African-American. That argument doesn’t make any sense to me. So we want to advance as a society and a culture, but, say, if something happens to an African-American we immediately come to his defense?” he said in 2014.
“Yet you want to talk about how far we’ve progressed as a society? Well, we’ve progressed as a society, then don’t jump to somebody’s defense just because they’re African-American. You sit and you listen to the facts just like you would in any other situation, right? So I won’t assert myself,” he said at the time.
However, he eventually backed down after backlash and pressure:
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) March 27, 2014
Former President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice eventually ruled that Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman, had done nothing to warrant criminal charges, meaning that no, Martin wasn’t “wronged.”
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