In 2019, the Toronto Raptors, led by Kawhi Leonard and coached by Nick Nurse, made history by defeating Golden State to become the first Canadian franchise to win an NBA championship. Today, the Raptors have a devoted following, with high-profile superfans like rapper Drake.
However, when the Raptors entered the NBA in 1995 as an expansion team, they sought ways to draw fans. Toronto needed a team name, logo, and jersey that appealed to the masses. To get people behind the new franchise, the Raptors got creative with marketing. They went with what they called the “happy meal box” of NBA designs.
How the Raptors got their name
In 1993, the Raptors were looking for a team name. The Toronto fan base was void after years of woes from the Maple Leafs. The owners needed a name that attracted the younger generation. They had a mail-in contest to decide the official team name.
According to Global News, the finalists included the Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Scorpions, Hogs, T-Rex, Terriers, and Tarantulas. The head of the ownership group, John Bitove, liked T-Rex the most. However, Bitove’s son suggested Raptors. The name stood out to Bitove and the ownership group, so they added it to the finalists.
That same year the original Jurassic Park took box offices by storms. The T-Rex was the central character, however, the Raptor was the one who captivated a younger generation. The Raptor was quick, ferocious, intelligent, and had a pack-mentality — all qualities of an NBA player. Likewise, the ownership also envisioned the stadium being like Jurassic Park, so the name felt like a no-brainer.
The original Raptors logo and uniform
Now that the Raptors officially had a name, they needed a design. In the early ’90s, the NBA began experimenting with unusual color schemes. Bitove and ownership wanted the “happy meal box” design to appeal to as many fans as possible. They wanted jerseys to stand out on the court.
The Raptors took great inspiration from the Hornets’ color scheme and design. Charlotte’s teal and purple jerseys immediately stood out on the court. To stand out visually, the Raptors went with purple jerseys, featuring a large red raptor across the front, with claw marks as pinstripes. Referred to as “Barney” for the purple color and the large raptor, the jerseys were immediately popular among youths.
As for the logo, Raptor’s ownership wanted an international brand. They intentionally left out anything Canadian specific, like a maple leaf. Their logo also needed to stand out, so it featured a large red raptor dribbling a basketball. The marketing and design of the Raptors jerseys and logo definitely worked for their jerseys were the 7th most popular when released, despite never even playing a game.
How Raptors’ merchandise broke record sales in 2019
In the late ’90s, the Raptors rebranded and abandoned the Raptor jerseys. Although they kept the purple, the modern design is much minimalist — common in the NBA today. In 2019, after the Raptors won their first championship, Toronto’s team merchandise broke the all-time NBA selling record.
The 2019 Raptors sold more jerseys than LeBron James’ 2016 Cavaliers when they beat Golden State after coming back from a 3-to-1 deficit.
When the Raptors first entered the league, the team struggled to remain competitive. However, the “happy meal design” jerseys captured the mind and inspiration of young viewers. Those original purple raptor jerseys propelled the fan base that eventually witnessed history in 2019.