Ever since the sudden and tragic passing of NBA great Kobe Bryant last January, there have been discussions of different ways the league could lastingly memorialize him. Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban retired the No. 24 for his team so that no future Maverick can use that number again. And there were adjustments made to the rules of play for the All-Star game to honor The “Black Mamba” as well. However, one larger-scale change request that’s since resurfaced is the change of the NBA logo.
At that time, a Change.org petition received more than 2 million signatures from fans saying they would support the change of the iconic logo from Kobe’s fellow Lakers legend Jerry West to Kobe Bryant. Now, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving has revived the discussion, posting an image of Kobe in place of West on his Instagram page, with the caption “Gotta happen, idc what anyone says. BLACK KINGS BUILT THE LEAGUE.”
Irving has always idolized Bryant, and there is plenty of video of their warm interactions, including a young Irving even challenging Kobe to a $50K game of one-on-one in 2012.
Kyrie’s post currently has more than 1.1 million likes, and Kobe’s widow Vanessa Bryant reposted the image on her own IG page. “Love this @kyrieirving,” wrote. Furthermore, Jerry West himself is over being used for the logo.
“I wish that it had never gotten out that I’m the logo,” he shared in an April 2017 interview with ESPN’s “The Jump.” “I really do. I’ve said it more than once, and it’s flattering if that’s me — and I know it is me — but it is flattering. But to me, I played in a time when they first started to try to market the league… Again, it’s flattering. But if I were the NBA, I would be embarrassed about it. I really would.”
In the past, before Kobe’s death, West had actually suggested Michael Jordan as a possible replacement.
Although the NBA is more than four-fifths Black, changing the logo purely based on race or ethnicity could be a problematic conversation.
But one of the biggest roadblocks to this change is straightforwardly a financial one. If Kobe were to become the new logo, his estate would have legal inroads to start talking about royalties. And the silhouette presently commands over $3 billion a year in licensing.
Yet West hasn’t received a single dime from the use of his silhouette as a loge because, as far as the NBA is concerned, it has never been a confirmed fact that Jerry West is the basis of the logo – only alleged. Per what has been the most that the league has ever spoken on the topic, when then-Commissioner David Stern was asked if the logo was indeed Jerry West in an April 2010 interview by the Los Angeles Times, the reply was, “There’s no record of it here.”
Alan Siegel, the founder of the branding company Siegel + Gale and designer of the original logo, posits the league’s non-acknowledgment of West to be the logo as what’s allowed it to cross all kinds of barriers in the first place. “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.”
So while the odds of a change to any other image or likeness of a player is highly improbable, even when it comes to the “Black Mamba,” the idea does not look like it will die down any time soon.