Friday, April 21, 2006

SUNS Best Dressed

The Suns' logo and uniforms are still among the best in the NBA
Best Dressed
By Brian Bujdos

SOMETIMES, TOM O'GRADY SITS IN HIS NEW YORK OFFICE and flips one by one through all of the NBA logos. That's part of his job, really, as the creative director of the NBA.

"When I look at the logos that might change now, and I've been here eight years," O'Grady says, "I look at Phoenix and pass right over it. It still feels very fresh today."

Very much a part of the marketing monster the NBA has become, O'Grady has redesigned logos and uniforms for 14 teams, including recent projects with the Nets, 76ers and Wizards.

Five seasons ago, O'Grady worked with Suns Vice President Tom Ambrose and others within the Phoenix organization to help the team design a new look.

"We felt by changing our logo and uniforms and opening the new arena, it was the closing of the first chapter in Suns history after a quarter century," Ambrose says.

Suns President Jerry Colangelo initiated the change. Not that the owner wanted to totally rework his team's identity. He wanted only to modernize the look that Phoenix fans had embraced for 25 years.

Once the Suns contacted the NBA, O'Grady took the lead.

"Jerry told us directly that he wanted something pretty timeless," O'Grady says. "He wanted to make sure it wouldn't be trendy or have a 5-to-10-year shelf life. That was a criteria we paid attention to. The first logo lasted 25 years."

Several dozen sketches were prepared by O'Grady and his staff, who then presented their best ideas to Ambrose and then-Vice President of Finance Rich Dozer, who is now the president of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"We were continually trying to reduce the number of ideas and concepts into what we wanted," Ambrose says. "It was an evolutionary process."

The old Phoenix logo, designed by Tucson printing plant owner Stan Fabe, had beams that emanated from the right portion of the sun, appearing to point the sun in a downward direction. O'Grady was told to make a slight adjustment.

"We wanted to change it, symbolically," Ambrose says, "to have the sun going up, because we felt the franchise was headed up."

After a few more changes - putting the tail on the left side of the Sun, extending the tail, and adding a zig-zag pattern around the outside of the basketball - Colangelo and his counterparts were satisfied.

The entire process of deriving a new logo took about six months.

Next up were the uniforms.

"We wanted to take the key part of the logo," O'Grady says, "which was the streaking Sun, and put it on the front of the uniform. We manipulated it very quickly. We really mimicked what's in the logo without being identical. It came out very distinct."

In fact, it was downright cutting-edge.

"The Suns were one of the first one or two teams to use graphics colorfully on the uniform," O'Grady says. "They helped take that kind of process and technology to the next level."

What made the Phoenix uniforms modernistic was what O'Grady calls sublimation. That is the gradual changing of the sun's streak from yellow to red as it emanates outward.

"It took an extra effort on Champion's part to do the sublimation," Ambrose says of the club's uniform company. It's not difficult on a printed page, but it's tough to do it consistently on a uniform."

The Phoenix game jersey, which formerly had a Western-style look to it with the word "Phoenix" across the chest, now has the word "Suns" instead, with a streaking sun across the front.

More tidbits about the uniforms: the purple game jerseys the Suns wear are actually white when they get to Champion. Then, dyes are transferred into the material through a heating process. The word "Suns" reads the same either right side up or upside down. And, Ambrose's feelings that the franchise was headed upward were correct. The Suns reached the NBA Finals in their first season in their new threads in 1992-93.

The Sonics and Jazz also accomplished the same feat after changing their uniforms in 1996 and 1997, respectively.

These days, O'Grady says, Phoenix's logo and uniforms continue to be among his favorites.

"Looking at all the logos in the league now," he says, "the Suns are the one that will continue to stand the test of time. The design has been very successful. We feel very good about it."

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