Artist Daniel Arsham adopts ‘magical’ vision and team history for refreshed Cavaliers look
CLEVELAND, Ohio – In a way, the recently unveiled redesigned look for the Cleveland Cavaliers dates back a few years to a sculpture by the artist Daniel Arsham in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
If you’ve been to the arena for the past few seasons and wandered around the lower level lobby, you’ve probably seen “Moving Basketball.” It draws you in, its multi-textured look of a basketball that seems to be nestled in a wavy piece of white fabric. It’s one of more than 100 pieces of art mounted or hung in the arena, courtesy of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and his wife, Jennifer.
“That was kind of the motivation to start this conversation about me taking on this role,” Arsham said of the work he’s done with the Gilberts. “There were fans who liked this work, and there was a good reaction from the community, and I started to chat with the team – really just making suggestions on things related to jerseys or on the field.”
Those conversations, he said, turned into “maybe there’s a big role for you here.”
Arsham became the team’s creative director in 2020. His virtual canvas in the arena is the complete look of the team: he is responsible for “everything the players wear, everything on the pitch, all graphics for social networks”.
So, the subtle refreshed look the team unveiled today involves a few changes. The sword cutting the ‘C’ is removed, and the ‘C’ will not be the main focal point, he said. The redesigned logo is inspired by the “kind of mark the pricechart at the time,” he said, referring to the point guard who played his first nine of 12 seasons at Cleveland.
“Even though it looks familiar, it’s an entirely new graphic design,” Arsham said. “We drew it from scratch. It takes cues from several eras. I knew from the start that I wanted to update the logo package for the team. Part of that was that when I arrived I felt like a lot of graphics and color rays had been stacked on top of each other for the better part of 15 years. I think there was a reluctance to let things go; they just kept adding stuff. There were around 30 different logos and multiple different uses.
“Our color for the team is wine and gold, but our gold (was) represented by this mustard color, and then there’s a navy thrown in there at one point. I started simplifying the things last season and cut the package down to six or seven uses. Then I started thinking, ‘How can I refine this further?’ For me, it’s really about creating a cohesive brand language, something people can latch onto.
At this point, the color scheme has been changed. Gold is real gold – non-reflective, and it ends up looking more like beige gold, he said. On the jerseys, the color is covered in silicone, which gives a reflective quality.
“It’s that sort of magical thing,” Arsham said. The graphics are entirely new, but when fans see it, “the logo will look like something they may have seen before.” In fact, a quintet of graphics form the new “family” of logos. One notable difference: the swashbuckling effect has disappeared; graphics rely primarily on typography.
Working on projects in his role with the team isn’t just an artistic endeavor for Arsham. A third-generation Clevelander, the New York artist grew up in Cleveland and Miami and maintains a strong affinity with the Cavs.
“Mark Price was definitely someone who was part of when I was going to games in the old arena long before the renovation. There are other quirky players like World B. Free, who I think , are part of a special moment,” said Arsham, who counts Kevin Love, Collin Sexton and Darius Garland among his friends. Arsham plays five or six games in Cleveland every year and sees the Cavs every time they play in New York Last year, he attended eight games and the Cavs won seven.
When he is not looking, he draws. Arsham and his design team designed around 50 variations for the Cavs’ look, including some “wildly new designs”. While the final say may lie with the artist, the Cavaliers and Nike remained involved every step of the way. A design might look cool up close on paper, for example, but the same typography or logos on a jersey might not work as well on camera.
“Everyone needed to know what was going to be achievable on the pitch,” Arsham said.
“I looked at a lot of historic shirts,” Arsham said. “I own a lot of them myself from different eras, and not just looking at the design of the jerseys themselves, but also the way the graphics sit on them. I think when people see our jerseys coming out next season, ours will be super unique in the league. They almost look like a 70s jersey in that they are very simple. There are not many embellishments anywhere, there is no trim on the edge of the sleeve. It’s a very reductive palette. And I think it’s going to be powerful that way. Players will love them, I’m sure.
The Cavaliers revamp comes on the heels of the Guardians also reworking their logo for the jerseys and typography for the scoreboard. This change was fueled by the team launching their new name this season.
For Arsham, the project remains special because of the city as well as the team it encourages.
“It’s been a magical experience for me to understand the team, both from the front office side and thinking about how everything we do off the pitch also influences who we are as a team. The Cavs are almost like a high school team in other places, where it really represents everyone’s perspective on the city, you know? It kind of represents us to the world. I think that sports are such a big part of the culture in Cleveland. It’s been kind of a magical thing for me on both sides.
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I am on cleveland.comfrom the Life and Culture team and covers topics related to food, beer, wine and sport. If you want to see my stories, here is a directory on cleveland.com. Bill Wills of WTAM-1100 and I usually talk food and drink at 8:20 a.m. Thursday morning. Twitter: @mbona30.
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