A Sham Dunk or a Three-Pointer?

The popular Big 3 basketball tournament is one of the coolest new ideas in sports entertainment. So why does their logo throw up a brick?

[Revised and posted 7.7.18 ]

Big-time sporting events, especially ones that are supported by big-time creative groups like Adidas, rarely miss the mark. But the logo for the Big 3 basketball league falls short.

Now, before the hate mail campaign gets underway, let me explain my thinking. If you still disagree after that, feel free to fire away.

Big 3 Logo Best

First off, there is a lot to like about the design and execution of the logo. The B, G and 3 characters are beautifully proportioned with subtle but effective interior divot shadows. These give the letterforms a subtle but surprisingly effective three-dimensional effect. The deep blue and red colors are chosen perfectly for maximum contrast and readability (easy to botch with blue and red). And the gold trim works great as a third accent color. The basketball, rim and net artwork are simple and effective, but the line work in the net is a bit too thin to be compatible with the other elements in the logo, or adequately readable when used at smaller sizes. And why they slimmed down the gold outline when it pops out around the basketball and net elements is a head-scratcher. But overall, that description sounds like an all-around high five, doesn’t it?

So what’s not to like? I can sum it up in one simple word. Readability.

It’s difficult to say this logo successfully reads as “BIG 3.” A common part of every designer’s toolbox is to replace a letterform in a word with a graphic object. In doing so, the goal is to maintain or even enhance the readability of a word while adding a visual element that creates additional meaning to the design. It’s a great strategy when it’s done well, and can lead to effective, powerful and even fun logo designs as seen in the examples below. (Okay, full disclosure… I designed both of these, but I think you’ll agree that they help make the point).


In these logos, you can see how the hypodermic in That’sDope.org is carefully designed to replace the “T” and compliment the rest of the distressed letters. In the Frogskin logo, the “o” and “g” letters are purposely designed to stand out from the rest of the font, but successfully replace their counterparts, while enhancing the readability.

However, when done poorly, this technique can disfigure the intended word, or worse, make the word read as something completely different. And that’s the case with the Bug 3 logo.

Yes, you read that right. For me, this logo reads like BUG 3! The substitution of the net and ball for the letter “I” hurts this otherwise promising logo, and there are several reasons why.

Big 3 Logo Blue

First, the net, rim and ball elements are way too wide to effectively stand in for a skinny “I” letter. Visually, our eyes lock on to the B, G and 3 at first glance because of their immediate recognizability (if that’s a word). It’s what we see first, based on the design. But the combined ball/rim/net element is much closer to the width of either a “U” or an “O” based on normal anticipated letter spacing within the word.

I’m guessing that the designer positioned the basketball element in approximately the same area where a potential dot for the “I” would be. A good idea, but instead, the large round basketball dominates that area and comes closer to representing an “O,” further hindering the readability. So without a skinny “I” or natural letter spacing, the net/rim graphic implies more of a letter “U”, while the basketball simultaneously fights to represent an “O”. The end result? The logo reads like “BUG 3” or even “BOG 3″ and struggles to achieve the intended “BIG 3″ name.

I’ve seen at least one review of the logo since its unveiling last year, and it was pretty positive as I recall. And after a year or two, any logo comes to be accepted based on familiarity and the subsequent visual equity that comes from consistent brand impressions. But that doesn’t speak to the quality of the design. And kudos to the designer for great execution and craftsmanship, but I think the concept was questionable. Which brings us to SBJ Rule #6: Good execution can’t overcome a flawed idea.

Also, the brand is expanding to a younger audience with the announcement of something called YOUNG3. In this case, there is another letter substitution attempt that replaces the letter “U” with the basketball/net graphic to create it. And although the width of the substituted letter graphic is much more compatible, the visual density of the net seems to fade back, reading more like a “W” than the “U”. Which leads us back once again to a bit of clumsy readability.


The Sports Brand Jury verdict in this case? Guilty on charges of creating a logo that, while done nicely,  fall a bit short of the mark.

So as the second season of this terrific event unfolds, I’m looking forward to seeing who will be the 2018 champions. But the logo still bugs me.


So am I bugging out over nothing here, or do you agree with me? Let me know your opinions!

Sports Brand Jury welcomes your opinions, comments, and suggestions for future cases. If we use your ideas for a future post (if we haven’t already planned on it), we’ll send you some SBJ swag as a thank you.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Pingback: Crazy Eights.

Submit a comment or suggestion to the SBJ Courtroom!