Fans clamored for the 1980s. The in-house creative team for the NBA’s Miami Heat was simply waiting for the opportunity. Then it came. And, wow, did they embrace the design with the recently released Miami Vice uniform, logo and Court Culture collection, all in a full celebration of the design—and colors—of the late ’80s.
“The first geek-out moment was when we heard we needed to create a jersey,” Miami Heat designer Brett Maurer tells HOW. “We had been waiting for the opportunity to do a Vice jersey. It is something that has been around pop-culture circles and buzzing around social media. The fans wanted this for a long time.”
When the NBA switched from Adidas to Nike as the league’s uniform provider before the 2017–18 season, Nike announced each team would feature four uniforms throughout the season. With each having a different theme, the City Edition allowed clubs to create locally resonating designs.
“We had a starting point, and we knew we would use the colors synonymous with Miami since the ’80s,” Maurer says. “As with anything, it needed to have more than: There are the two colors and this is an aesthetic.”
The team dug around the theme of the late 1980s, when the Heat began as a franchise, researching everything from South Beach–inspired Art Deco to retro digital to gradients popular in the era, all in search of creating a logo to dominate the City Edition. “The big turning point was when one of the creative team threw down the Miami Arena script and it was one of those ‘aha’ moments,” Maurer says. “It seemed like all our questions of where we should go had been answered. That was a huge moment in the process.”
The 18-month design process included creating the script “Miami” for the front of the uniform, remaking other classic Heat logos in the Vice theme and embracing the colors along the way, which was no easy task, Jennifer Alvarez, chief of creative and content for the Heat, tells HOW. “What tone of blue do we go with, how fuchsia do we want to go, do we want a rosier pink?” she says were key questions. The landing place offered a modern spin on the classic Art Deco Miami, updating the traditional baby blue to a bolder hue—Nike’s “blue gale”—and offering a Nike “laser fuchsia” with some punch. “It should be bold,” she says. “This jersey deserves bold. It is owed it.”
The original color concept was sent to Nike, and they sent back samples, but the design team knew something was off. So, Nike sent an entire box of any possible color within the spectrum. “We went card by card and picked exact colors, and once we got the new version we knew we had it,” Alvarez says.
With colors set, Maurer says they decided to keep the jersey aesthetic clean. By selecting the script used in the old Miami Arena, the original home of the Heat, stylized in blue and fuchsia, the team had a new mark ready to dominate the design. They allowed it to live on the team’s classic uniform silhouette with asymmetrical side piping. Replacing the Heat red and orange with the new colors and updating the current numeral set with a drop-shadowed style offers great dimension, further pulling together all elements of Miami Vice.
“We must have had 100 (ideas) on the table,” Maurer says. “This was the cream that rose to the top.”
The uniform also includes the “MH” logo on the waistband and the classic ball and flame logo on the left leg to balance out the asymmetrical piping. Alvarez says they spent an inordinate amount of time tweaking the ball and flame logo, trying to play with colors differently while staying true to the brand. “That gets lost on people as an easy task,” she says, “but with so many different iterations, that took a lot longer than people would realize.”
The Heat has one of the most robust in-house design teams, taking on projects without the lead of the league or jersey sponsors. “If we are living this brand, we should be the one to create everything on the court,” Michael McCullough, Heat chief marketing officer, tells HOW. “This particular design was a Heat creation from start to finish. There are 30 teams in the NBA, so here’s one Nike didn’t have to worry about. We do appreciate working with them, but this was a home-grown project from day one.”
And that understanding of local culture led to the Miami script tying to the arena, garnering positive feedback from both the generation that remembers 1988 and younger folks. “It is a new, fresh design, but feels nostalgic about who we come from,” Alvarez says.
With powerful design for the court, the Heat embraced Miami Vice with its Court Culture collection, turning the team store into a Miami Vice home and building a microsite selling the roughly 10 pieces launched with the uniform at the end of January.
“You don’t want to just present the uniform,” Alvarez says. “The uniform was years in coming, and we owed it a proper presentation and introduction. We were really excited to create that and tell the story through visuals.”
The Heat debuted the uniform in photo shoots, and announcements surrounded by blue gale and laser fuchsia offering the Court Culture collection and helping to build a campaign. During the uniform design process, some ideas didn’t make the cut for the uniform, but were saved for Court Culture. “Maybe it wasn’t the correct graphic for the uniform, but a couple designs were born from actual design of the uniform,” Alvarez says. “Once you have the uniform and start to tell creative around it, the merchandise just comes naturally. That speaks to the power of having creative in-house.”
With the intense popularity of the Miami Vice Court Culture collection—it was the most successful launch of a uniform campaign in the history of the Heat, and Court Culture items rocketed to the top and third place on top-selling Heat items—McCullough says they will keep the line interesting by pulling out some new designs as the campaign move forward. “Fans will keep wanting more, so we will give them some fresh (designs),” he says.
Nike envisioned the City Edition jersey to change every year, but that doesn’t mean Miami Vice comes as a one-hit wonder. While the design team works on next year’s City Edition and the Miami Vice uniform gets worn during the regular season for the final time on March 6, Vice won’t necessarily get locked into the vault. If the Heat make the playoffs (currently that prospect looks promising), McCullough says to expect the Miami Vice look to come back into play and give the campaign another breath of life.
“I am a big believer in designing not on trend, but for something to be timeless,” Maurer says. “I would hope that you could always pull out this jersey. It does have a very classic look, but it is modern. It is a classic silhouette reimagined and would have worked in 1988 when we opened the doors and it works today.”
Tim Newcomb covers sports design for HOW Design. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.