Since it was founded 43 years ago, the Boston Neighborhood Basketball League has become an institution among school-aged children and teens. The league has been a signifier of summer in the city.
But unlike most popular sports institutions in the city, the league run by Boston Center for Youth & Families and sponsored by Reebok lacked a logo that truly represented its culture.
That's not the case anymore now that 13-year-old Dominique Litif-Nelson won a contest to design the league’s new logo, which was printed on more than 3,500 Reebok shirts before BNBL play kicked off earlier this month.
“I was astonished, I didn’t know what to say,” said the South Boston resident who is entering the eighth grade at the Perry Schoolof her reaction when she was told that she won this past spring. “I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t even believe what happened.”
For her efforts, Litif-Nelson was awarded a voucher worth roughly $400 that allowed her to go online and design two custom pairs of Reeboks, although she wasn’t able to include her new BNBL logo on the sneakers.
“My design was too intricate,” she said.
The contest was launched after last season and was the genesis of a conversation between the Boston Center for Youth & Families and Reebok.
“The league is so historic and we’re going into our 43rd year,” said Ryan Fitzgerald, the center's director of recreation, sports and fitness. “Over the years the logo has changed or been tweaked for one reason or another.
“There are just so many young people involved in it over the years we just thought it would be cool to allow our young, talented artists a chance to design the logo.”
The center started promoting the contest at schools and community centers across the city in the fall and midway through the school year collected nearly 125 entries. The center and Reebok chose 10 finalists before ultimately unveiling the winning logo in May.
“All ages were welcome as long as they were under 18 and a school-age youth,” Fitzgerald said. “We had cute ones from little elementary students in crayon, then we had more advanced candidates as well. We said all along, if a 6 or 7-year-old did something interesting and something in the spirit of BNBL, working with the Reebok designers, we would use it.”
Originally set in front of a generic skyline, Latif-Nelson’s logo was touched up my Reebok designers who incorporated the Boston skyline into it. Fitzgerald said other than the skyline, the logo is Litif-Nelson’ original design.
“She included what basketball meant to her and she included the Reebok logo which is obviously special to us,” Reebok Sports Marketing Basketball Manager Kim Federico said. “It was a great drawing.”
For the last 15 years Reebok has provided in-kind donations to the league in the form of shirts for the players and polo shirts and sneakers for the league’s volunteer coaches.
“Lots of kids wear [the shirts around], they want to show they are part of the league,” Federico said.
Lifit-Nelson, who has been drawing consistently since she was about 4-years-old, was encouraged to enter the contest by the staff at the Tynan Community Center, where she played her first season of BNBL just last summer. She's back for more this summer.
She spent about an hour working on her submissions and ended up entering six logos into the contest.
Inspired by comic book and tattoo art, Lifit-Nelson said she incorporated stars into her logo because she noticed that was a theme in past logos.
“I didn’t know [how good it was], I thought there was other people that were better than me but I wasn’t sure,” she said. “I told my friends and they were like ‘I’m playing BNBL, I’ll root for you.’ They were just like ‘Wow you drew that, I can’t believe you drew that.’ ”
Her mother said she didn’t pass any artistic talent down to her daughter.
“Neither did her father, it must be somewhere down the line, she must be related to somebody — Michelangelo,” Luanne Litif said. “She amazes me.
“She’s just a natural, she’ll just sit down and draw for hours and draw whatever is in her head.”
Both Fitzgerald and Federico said they would like to continue the program for years to come.
“I would love to see it each year and have a new design to be able to include more kids and build a tradition; like some of the NBA players, they have a new shoe each season, let’s roll out a new T-shirt design each season and build some history.
“If we put out it out in the schools we might attract someone not interest in basketball, it doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who plays in the league who can be a winner. Let’s include someone else in the community. It doesn’t have to be someone on the basketball court which is really nice.”
Lifit-Nelson, who hopes to attend Boston Arts Academy next year, said winning the contest hasmotivated her to be more focused.
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