The Evolution of Toronto Raptors Merch and What It Means To Fans

In 1995, The Toronto Raptors were born. Fast forward to 2019 and they’re in the NBA finals for the first time in franchise history. It wasn’t always an easy road to get to where they are now but are making history every day. They’re the NBA team with the best fan base (we may be slightly biased) and now the most valuable sports franchise in Canada. In its 24 years of existence, The Raptors and their fans have experienced many heartbreaks, triumphs, and well...logo changes.

The Barney Era

If you remember the 1990s, then you’ll know just how big the film Jurassic Park was throughout the decade. Hence why Toronto ended up with the name Raptors.

via Instagram

via Instagram

At this time in the league, jerseys had been rather tame. Back in the day all the details like the name, number and logo were sewn on or embroidered, so design was rather limiting. Dye sublimation was just a new technique that was being introduced, and helped reimagine jerseys in a new way.

So, just think of the reaction when the Raptors explode into the bball scene with vibrant purple jerseys with a red uniformed cartoon dinosaur playing basketball. Due to another famous dinosaur at the time, this became known as “The Barney Era”.

Despite the criticism, Tom O’Grady, the NBA’s first creative director and man who is responsible for the design stands by his work. He even had a hand in rebranding most of the NBA teams, having them take on a new and exciting look - which by the 2000s created a booming NBA merch industry.

The original logo has been worn by some of the greatest Raptors; Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and more. So it’s no surprise that it’s gone on to become an iconic piece of Raptors merch. Fan’s everywhere are buying jerseys, jackets, t-shirts and any merch with this design still.

Our resident Graphic Designer, and Raptors fan Kevin Limeback says “ I grew up in the “Barney era” so for me the original logo tugs at my heartstrings. It’s iconic and distinct in the basketball world, and simply has more character.”

The Redesign from a Designer’s PERSPECTIVE

via  Tim & Sid

“To be completely honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of our current logo when it was released in 2014. Like many fans, I thought the logo was a bit too resemblant of the Brooklyn Nets’ logo, who just so happened to be one of our top rivals at that time. And then some fans pointed out it looked like a watermelon, which just can’t be unseen.

But what I do love about the logo is that it accompanied the release of the “We The North” campaign, a bold and confident battle-cry that ignited an entire movement, not only in Toronto but for all of Canada.

I believe Raptors fans have warmed up to the logo not because if its design, but because of what it represents: a nation united by sport and hungry for a championship. It embodies a winning era. From a design perspective, it’s more modern. It’s versatility and simplicity resonates with fans as something you can wear to work, and let’s face it, it’s much easier to replicate on fan-made posters.”

-Kevin Limeback, Rightsleeve Graphic Designer

A long standing tradition

Merch has been a huge method for teams to connect with fans and fans to connect with their team. Right now, you can walk into any sports or department store and find Raptors merch. It’s accessible to the fans. At a Raptors game they’re firing off branded shirts through a gun, or dropping them from the ceiling into a crowd of fans, making people go crazy for them.

A tradition in the NBA playoffs, have been to give every seat in the home arena a free t-shirt. This has been going on for decades, and no matter how hard we try to research it, it can’t really be explained how it started. The idea is for everyone to wear it while they watch the game, and come together to support their team. Plus, when it’s done you have something to take home with you to remember your experience!

Here are some of the designs from this year:

What the Merch Means to Us

Whether it be a jersey, a toque or scarf, merch can come in many different forms. It’s a way to show your love and support of the team, the sport, the city. Walking around Toronto it’s hard to go 2 minutes without seeing someone in Raptors gear, however, when you see that it makes you feel a connection with that person instantly - like you belong to the same tribe.

This guy, even went viral after making this video showing all the Raptors jerseys he has been able to collect over the years.


“Besides a couple of hats and tees, I have two jerseys; Bismack Biyombo and Pascal Siakam .” Kevin says “I cherish these jerseys not only because they pay tribute to two monumental seasons from two incredibly talented/impactful players, but because they represent Toronto, a city I’m proud to call home.”

Go Raps Go!



For a more in depth reading of the history of Raptor’s design see here.

Featured Image Raptors Instagram

Hayley Green