This is the story of
the design behind “The Redeem Team”, the USA Men’s Basketball team
that captured the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal. Between the years of 1992 (the first
year that NBA players were allowed to compete in the Olympics) and 2000, Team
USA was dominant, accumulating a record of 24-0 in the Olympics. With the likes
of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Shaquille O’neil, Team USA was unstoppable
in those three olympics. In 1992, they won their 8 games by an average of 44
points, not just bringing glory to the USA but elevating the profile of the
game worldwide. Since 1992, basketball’s popularity has exploded worldwide. But
this isn’t the story of Team USA’s rampant initial success. This is the story
of the downturn — and what happened next.

 After over a decade
of international dominance, the 2004 USA Men’s Basketball team arrived in
Athens with brand new Reebok Jerseys (Team USA had previously been outfitted by
Champion) and expectations that another Gold medal would soon be theirs. Long
story short, it wasn’t to be. Instead, Team USA, the basketball behemoth that
featured a cast of some of the highest paid athletes in the world, barely made
it on to the podium. Stumbling to a bronze model certainly wasn’t in the

Enter the
“Redeem Team”, a cast of new-age NBA superstars following in the
footsteps of Jordan. Lead by LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Kobe
Bryant as well as Duke’s Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, this team was
determined to be different. They wanted to reimagine their process from the
ground up. After relying for too many years on sheer star power to win games,
it was obvious that it would take a true team effort to reclaim their place on
top of the podium. The players needed to set their egos aside and focus on the
common goal, a gold medal. After a team meeting on exactly that subject, coach
K commented “You play for the name on the front of the jersey, U.S.A., and
not the name on the back of the jersey, which is their individual names.”

At this point, Nike
was in charge of designing the jerseys for the “Redeem Team”. When
they heard of that team meeting, the designers decided to take action. Take a
look at the jerseys and see if you notice anything about it. Look at the stylistic
differences between the lettering on the front and back of the jerseys. What do you notice? Nike
decided to work the theme of team over individual into the jersey itself. By
putting “USA” in big, bold lettering with a sharply contrasting color
it dominates the jersey. By comparison, not only is the name on the back much
smaller but it is merely outlined, with the interior of the letters the same
color as the rest of the jersey. With a jersey design reinforcing their
commitment to their commonly held goals, they arrived in Beijing ready to make
statements. Any guess as to how Team USA performed that year? Hint: I wouldn’t
be writing this story if they had claimed anything but gold.