The Toronto Raptors unveiled two new jerseys for the upcoming 2016-17 season on Tuesday, one a nod to the NBA’s Canadian heritage and the other a celebration of the Chinese New Year.
The first is a blue ‘Huskies’ uniform to help mark the 70th anniversary of the Toronto Huskies-New York Knicks game at Maple Leaf Gardens on Nov. 1, 1946, the first-ever NBA game.
“We’re always trying to give our fans new and different things,” says Dave Freeman, MLSE’s Head of Brand Marketing. “But we also want it to come from an authentic place. Plus, it really connects to ‘We the North’. There’s no more cold-weather, wintery dog than the husky, so it still made sense with our overall creative idea.”
It marks a return to the throwback ‘Huskies’ threads that were first introduced in 2009. Back then a lot of people, myself included, felt the name and look made sense as part of a total rebrand, a notion Freeman says the club acknowledged but never seriously entertained.
“It was a topic that came up internally,” he says. “We never really considered changing the name from Raptors to Huskies, but conversations were had about how ‘Huskies’ fit into the overall brand DNA and how to make sure that, in an authentic way, we’re still nodding our heads to our past. Even though the Huskies never really evolved into the Raptors, it was the start of professional basketball in this country so we want to keep that alive.”
To wit, the jersey’s simplistic design is an attempt at staying as true to the original Huskies digs as possible.
“These are basically exactly what those guys wore in 1946,” says Freeman, who adds that “the colours aren’t identical because it’s a different manufacturer now and different threads come out differently, but we tried to work with Adidas to get it as close as possible.”
The Huskies alternates will be worn during a handful of home games in the first half of the season and the team says they’ll be available for fans to purchase in early October.
The new looks were approved by the players, who were sent prototypes during the design process, with newly-minted gold medalist DeMar DeRozan being the most involved throughout. “Since our rebrand, I’ve worked with DeMar to make sure we’re not doing anything that the guys won’t dislike. He’s seen them, and the players are really excited about the Huskies jersey,” says Freeman.
While we’ve seen a version of the ‘Huskies’ look before, the same can’t be said for the other new uniform unveiled on Tuesday.
The Raptors’ newest red jerseys will be worn twice during the homestand immediately following the Chinese New Year on Jan.28, 2017.
Image courtesey Sandy Nicholson/MLSE
What’s arguably the most interesting about these is the image of the dragon’s head that’s been incorporated into the wordmark, which is more than just a nod to the significance the figure holds in Chinese history — turns out that ‘Raptor’ and ‘Dragon’ actually share the same characters.
“The makeup of this city, with its huge Chinese population, it makes sense,” Freeman says of the new jerseys, which have been in the works for two years now. “In the past we’ve done many heritage nights for China and a number of different ethnicities, but this is a step forward. It’s a no-brainer for us to do something further to connect with that Chinese community.”
The Raptors aren’t the first NBA team to don jerseys with Chinese lettering — the Warriors, Rockets and Wizards have done the same in recent years. The team worked closely with Adidas to ensure theirs stood apart from the pack, which, Freeman explains, is something of a theme with the club.
“How we look at our marketing here with the Raptors always comes back to what ‘We the North’ stands for,” he says. “We’re outsiders, we should feel different, we should look different than every other team because we’re the only one outside of the United States. That’s our pride-point for ‘We the North’.”
Raptors gear has become quite popular since the introduction of that marketing campaign (roster continuity, consistent winning basketball, and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals certainly helps). Last season the team finished eighth in the NBA in team merchandise sales.
Adding these two new jerseys to the four the club introduced as part of their rebrand roughly this time last year, there’s no question MSLE’s brand department has been hard at work. And there are no signs of slowing down — Freeman and his team are already eyeing the 2019-20 season and are currently working on 25th anniversary designs.