It’s no surprise, but the Oklahoma City Thunder is making a firm stand in establishing an independent identity.
Christopher Arena — the NBA’s vice president of outfitting, identity and equipment — told The Oklahoman in a phone interview Monday the Thunder will not honor the Seattle SuperSonics’ 1979 NBA title with the league’s new championship tags.
Beginning in 2014-15, the NBA and Adidas will add small gold mark on the back jersey collar of teams that have won an NBA championship. The mark features a depiction of the Larry O’Brien Trophy along with a notation indicating how many times the franchise has won the NBA Finals.
Last week, a leaked PDF of an Adidas catalog showed Thunder jerseys appearing without the tag, but the organization has yet to confirm or deny the decision.
“As of right now, they are not wearing it,” Arena said. “They actually would have had to have told us that some time ago, and that was their choice. We have several teams who have a lineage that exists prior to the city that they’re in ...Some teams embrace that past, some teams don’t. Whether it’s because of ownership changes or perhaps the lineage is too great of a distance or the team nickname changed or whatever it may be, that’s their decision.”
Arena said the jersey addition was less about boosting retail sales and more about honoring the NBA’s tradition. NBA replica and “Swingman” jerseys sold in stores will not feature the championship tag. It will only be on authentic jerseys, which sell for $299.95 on NBA.com.
The inspiration for the mark comes from the NBA reflecting players’ various achievements on All-Star Game warmups.
“We’ve been trying to figure out a way to take those accomplishments and apply them to a team setting and apply them to the game uniforms,” Arena said. “As we were going through the updates this season we just targeted this year to add the trophy, number of years.”
The NBA discussed several possible locations for the championship notation, including the jock tag on the bottom of jerseys. Arena said designers decided for the back collar so it would be visible on-court, but also intentionally made it a subtle addition.
“I think we come from a design philosophy where not everything has to be apparent,” Arena said. “There is an element of discovery, so if you see it on the TV broadcast or when you’re in the arena you may ask the question as you go to a retail store, maybe go online and do some research on the team site, you’ll discover what it actually means.
“More than that, as the players put on the uniform, they know that there’s a legacy before them, whether it’s the players that came before them, the championships, the teams of that franchise who won a championship before them.”
The NBA logo was also moved from the front of jerseys to the back, now placed just below the collars. ESPN.com’s Paul Lukas told The Oklahoman last week that could be a move to clear space for the eventual possibility of teams wearing sponsor patches on the front of jerseys.
Although that could still be part of the decision, Arena said it was a stylistic decision to link the NBA logo with the championship marks.
“It’s the NBA championship and just linking the two together ...It was more design reasons and consistency more than anything else,” he said.
Unlike the Thunder, the Atlanta Hawks and Sacramento Kings will recognize championships won in different cities.
The St. Louis Hawks won a title in 1957-58, and the Kings won as the Rochester Royals in 1950-51.
The Thunder’s decision not to wear the tag is expected seeing as Oklahoma City doesn’t recognize the title with a banner in Chesapeake Energy Arena and has generally distanced itself from Sonics’ history.
This solidifies that stance, and leaves the Thunder searching for a title and tag to call its own.
“It’s about how the team chooses to identify themselves in the marketplace to their fans,” Arena said. “The Oklahoma City Thunder have chosen not to recognize that championship in this overt way that (the NBA has) chose.”