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Toto, We're Not in Jersey Anymore: The Nets' Design Goes Hipster

What might seem a "basic" or "boring" approach to branding is much deeper than meets the eye.

As the Nets prepare the move from suburban New Jersey to a brand-new arena among the brownstones of Brooklyn, the team's redesigned logo has attracted both fans and foes. The stripped-down, black-and-white icon surprised many fans for its departure from trends in sports logo design. Unlike the overly rendered, multi-dimensional logos of other NBA teams—the Knicks and the Grizzlies, to name two—the Nets are positing themselves as minimalists. With a simple shield bearing the team's name and a basketball branded with the letter 'B,' the logo looks more akin to a 1930s woodcut print than a modern-day NBA graphic.

What might seem a "basic" or "boring" approach to branding—two adjectives common on basketball forums over the past 24 hours—is much deeper than meets the eye. The press release from the Nets frames the new imagery as a homage to New York City: “[The brand identity] incorporates a timeless black and white color palette of the old New York subway signage system, including its clean ‘RollSign’ typeface,” the team writes. Though hip-hop mogul Jay-Z is credited with designing the logo and color scheme, it is likely that designer Timothy Morris, who has provided graphic work for Jay-Z on other projects, had a major hand in the final logo.

Judging by the Nets-themed swag that’s already entering the market, the Nets are playing to their audience of urbane Brooklynites. Like the new kid in class who so eagerly raises his hand to answer a question, some of t-shirts seem practically to beg for acceptance, playing heavily to the region’s hip-hop tradition. The team's “Hello Brooklyn” shirt references a line from “B-Boy Bouillabaisse,” a track from the Beastie Boys’ seminal album Paul’s Boutique. Another shirt with the potential to fly off the shelves is called “The Corner,” which features the silhouette of sneakers hanging from the letters that comprise “Brooklyn,” mimicking the shoe-trimmed telephone lines seen throughout the borough.

Not everyone is a fan of the new image—especially as translated in the more pared-down t-shirt designs that feature the uppercase word “Brooklyn” printed above a white basketball. “Literally nothing about these [new shirts] gives you any hint that they are for an NBA team,” Trey Kerby wrote for The Basketball Jones. “These look like shirts you would buy from Old Navy for $5. City name, a letter and a basketball—that is a go-to generic t-shirt combination.” Kerby is right: Old Navy is currentlyselling a $5 t-shirt with a flat, simple basketball graphic, branded with “Manhattan” and a numbered basketball.

But the seemingly nondescript design taps into the trending (and unfortunately named) hipster branding aesthetic, which sees companies opting for minimal, contour-drawn logos. Such a simple approach bears huge potential—the Nets have established a versatile brand likely to appeal across cultural lines in the New York City’s largest borough.

In terms of making nice with the neighbors, the logo is far from the most important element. After several controversial years that could only be described as an urban planner’s nightmare, many Brooklynites are still fuming over a construction process that displaced residents and permanently altered the surrounding neighborhood. “It’s a horrible ugly stadium,” says local resident Michael Matson. “I don’t care about the new colors. [Developer Bruce] Ratner’s a rat.”

Yet the vast majority of potential Nets fans weren't personally affected by the stadium construction, and for them the logo may represent an important selling point. “The first time I saw it on the Internet I wasn’t a fan, but it’s grown on me,” one fan told MarketWatch at the in-store launch of the new Nets merchandise, where Nets dancers worked the crowd, appropriately offering silver platters filled with black-and-white cookies. “It’s simple and not trying to do too much… I think it could end up like the Yankees and be a classic look—but they’re going to need to win.”

The rebranding of the Nets represented a crucial step in the team's migration. For the first time, many Brooklynites are beginning to fathom shifting their loyalty from the Knicks. And by shedding their Jersey past and donning a completely new look, the Nets emerge with an aesthetic free of prior association. Brooklyn will finally have a team—and a related image—to call its own.

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