This was Doret’s vision for the New York Knicks logo, when the NBA approached him in the early '90s to create a redesign. The NBA rejected it.

It was an update to this logo, what the Knicks had been using since the '70s.

Here’s what the NBA ultimately decided on. Note that the Empire State Building was ripped out. Eventually, "New York" filled in the void.

Truth be told, Doret came up with all sorts of incredible, retro logos for the organization--all of which were teeming with New York personality.

These are just colored pencil versions of his hand-lettered pieces.

But their breadth is pretty impressive, each a unique mix of sports/typographical history.

One of his best was a take on the NYC subway token--a general idea which the Knicks eventually adopted, without crediting Doret.

In this logo, you see a lot of elements Doret was playing with--the Empire State Building, the shield, the ball. It’s quite similar to what they ended up with, really.

In a way, it’s really too bad so much ended up on the cutting room floor; each idea would make a fantastic pseudo-throwback jersey today.

Because they even look good in black and white.

He also created a series of monogram logos, which are just as fantastic.

Think of them as B-sides to the main logos.

Sadly, nothing ever came of Doret’s best Knicks logo--it wasn’t even finished beyond colored pencil. But what a fantastic ode to the hand lettering logo creation of yesteryear.

Co.Design

The All-Star NY Knicks Logo That Should Have Been

Michael Doret shares his tale of designing the greatest New York Knicks logo ever, only to scale back the idea to what you recognize today.

In the early '90s, Michael Doret was creating logos for MLB, NBA, Time--even Kiss. It’s hard to call any of the projects bigger than one another--after all, these were all big brands--but thanks to a diehard Knicks blogger, one story has filtered through the sports community to reach all of us in the design world. Doret was tasked with redesigning the logo for the New York Knicks.

He would go on to create a masterpiece. It would be rejected. And the NBA would settle for the neutered version that’s in use today. To any professional designer, it’s a story that may be a bit too familiar. The NBA’s assignment was to create a new Knicks logo that would capture the essence of New York by including a famous landmark. New York has several. The Statue of Liberty was an option, but it was already a bit played out. Madison Square Garden was a natural fit, but how do you work that into a logo? The Empire State Building was the best choice, Doret and the NBA agreed, so for the next several months, he began hand-sketching all sorts of potential logos for the Knicks.

One of many early pencil sketches by Doret.

These logos represent a treasure trove of pseudo-retro designs, not-quite-literal throwbacks that may have been too aggressive for the '90s, but are dead on the sensibilities of 2012--a culture obsessed with the quasi-authenticity of plaid bow ties, Instagram filters, and pour-over coffee.

“This is the thing people always note about my work: It does have a nod to, or several nods to the past.” Doret tells Co.Design. “I think that’s the nature of designing the word--doing hand lettering. These logos feel vintage, but you’ll never find anything done back in the day that looks like them. It’s very difficult to design something to be totally, authentically retro or vintage.”

Another logo possibility, based upon NY’s iconic subway token.

Scanning through Doret’s sketches, I spot a smattering of everything from Art Deco to disco. Although a clever riff on New York’s subway token is an easy make*, the rest is a collection of undefinable echoes of voices from history in art, graphic design, and professional sports. But while I can’t trace the lineage of every logo, I do know that each would sell a boatload of distressed tees. “There’s been a lot of time now for people to absorb this kind of retro stuff. It’s become more a part of the vernacular,” Doret says. “When I was doing this, there was really nobody doing it quite like I was at the time. “

In all these sketches, Doret did manage to land on a logo that the NBA liked. It combined the silhouette of the Empire State Building--which had become a bit of a motif in Doret’s sketches--with the basketball and extrusion of the previous Knicks logo.

An evolution of the Doret’s Empire State Building logo design. Despite its brilliance, this design would be rejected.

The result was like a 3-D art deco makeover, plated on a Superman-esque shield. It’s energetic. It’s nostalgic. And most important, it’s New York. The idea was almost a go, and then the NBA decided that getting the rights to a New York landmark might be problematic. So they asked Doret to rip the Empire State Building out, despite it being the apex of the image, despite it being the foundational tie to the city. So the Knicks adopted the logo sans any New York affiliation. Shortly thereafter, Doret created a modified version with “New York” written over Knicks. It filled some of the missing vertical space, but, well, an icon was changed to text.

“We kind of emasculated it by removing the building and leaving the rest the same,” Doret admits. “In my mind, it never quite works the way it’s supposed to. That wasn’t the intention. Because of the way I work, it would have been better to have started over on this design, letting it grow organically rather than just erasing the building icon and calling it a day.”

Now, Doret’s approved Knicks logo was still a success. It lasted roughly two decades for the organization. And this year, the NBA announced a redesign that’s virtually unchanged, save for a general flattening that’s become fashionable in the touch-screen era. That said, you can’t dig through Doret’s old designs without feeling the pangs of wasted potential, like an Oscar-winning film in which the best scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. But Doret, despite disagreeing with the NBA’s decision 20 years later, is by no means bitter about the experience.

The second version of Doret’s logo the NBA approved--"New York" is added up top in this version. Versions of this logo were in service from the early '90s to 2011. And today’s isn’t much different, either.

“To me, it’s just the nature of what I do. I’m not a fine artist. I’m not out to make my own statements. I’m solving problems visually,” he says. “At the end of the day, if it doesn’t work for a client for whatever reason, that’s the way it is. That’s showbiz.”

*The Knicks did end up adopting a logo like Doret’s subway token, but he was not credited with the design.

See more of Doret’s work here.

[Hat tip: Posting and Toasting and Behance]

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8 Comments

  • LxL

    I get that the NBA felt they couldn't afford to use the image, but I don't understand why the writer of the previous comment, thought a generic building in it's place would make any sense. 

  • Tom O'Grady

    Most of Michael's design sketches looked too much like the New York Mets logo. 
    As the Creative Director on the project I had to direct him to move away from the skyline options (which we paid handsomely for and could not present) and so I suggested a look towards the sky approach to capture the bigness of New York. 

  • Tom O'Grady

    Michael Doret not bitter? I worked with him for a span of years back in the mid- 1990's at the NBA. Ultimate "chip on the shoulder" designer if I ever met one. Michael Doret not credited with designing the NYK secondary token? WOW! What did he want? His sketch retired to the rafters of Madison Square Garden next to the retired Knicks and Rangers? WOW!  Easy Mike, "your" Knicks logo is the best logo in New York sports, right after the Mets, the Jets, the Rangers and the Yankees--- Holy Christ!  Truth be told, the NBA did not want to pay the property owners of the Empire State Building a royalty on every piece of merchandise or photo sold with the Knicks logo on it. Michael couldn't design (or didn't want to try) a generic enough looking building to save the idea of a building on top of the lettering --- so it got removed. True story. I know. I art directed his every move.
    Tom O'Grady (previous NBA Global Creative Director) who commissioned Doret

  • joe

    Is there a reason your article makes no mention of resemblance to penis? Whether it be the actual word or reference to it. Obilesque maybe.

  • LogoDesign

    At the end of the day, most NBA logos miss the mark from a merchandising perspective. The logos don't represent the team, they just state the team name. Look at the MLB and how they have distinct icons representing each team that stand on their own to represent the team without needing a word mark. This becomes an issue primarily when utilizing the logo on headwear, apparel, etc. where most designs become redundant if anything (text) but just the logo is used. 

    That being said, the inclusion of the Empire State Building would have been a good element to keep in the logo to create more of an identifiable icon.

  • Antaclaude

    You pretty much brushed over the most despicable part of the story. Artisf makes Subway token logo, Knicks reject it then start using it 10years later and tell artist he didn't design it. He says he did and the Knicks say prove it! He ends up proving it and Knicks say fine we'll pay you. But you'll NEVER work for a pro basketball team again!!! MuaHaHahaa

    http://www.postingandtoasting....

  • Andy Fuller

    ...I have to agree about taking out the Empire State Building - great execution and those hand-drawn evolutions look great.

    The blue is too light, so makes it hard to read - should have kept the original colours - more clearer to read.

    CLIENT: 01   DESIGNER: 01   (thats one-all to both teams!)

  • BongBong

    Most of those logo concepts were admittedly pretty weak. Good thing they went for the version without the buildings.