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Sweet Wood

Sweet Wood

By Matt Morgan

View full image. Photo by Richard Fitzsimons
Making a basketball court like no other

Every basketball coach wants their players to see the court—front, sides, the whole shebang—no matter where they play. And this autumn, at Santa Clara they’re going to see a court like none they’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s a tale of wood and shoes, hoops and clubs, brilliant design and a little luck—if luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Back in summer 2015, new SCU Athletics Director Renee Baumgartner was playing in a charity golf tournament in San Diego. There on the course she spotted Tinker Hatfield, Nike’s vice president for Design and Special Projects. Hatfield runs Nike’s Innovation Kitchen and has been friends with Baumgartner for nearly two decades, dating back to her time at University of Oregon.

In 1998, Nike’s Tinker Hatfield was named one of the top 100 most influential designers of the 20th century by Fortune magazine. Photo by Carmen Chan

If his imposing title or the phrase “Innovation Kitchen” didn’t tip it off already—Hatfield is a big deal. Very big. Chances are you or someone you know has worn a pair of shoes he designed. Not only is he responsible for the Air Jordan III through XXXs—the most iconic series of basketball shoes ever—but he also invented the first cross-trainer and designed the Air Max 1. He even worked with movie director Robert Zemeckis in 1989 to sketch out Marty McFly’s self-tying sneakers from Back to the Future II. You could call him Mr. Nike. 

Nike has long used University of Oregon as its test market for its unconventional jersey and sneaker design. Hatfield also designed a landmark basketball floor—Oregon’s Kilkenny Floor. In 2011, when that swirling landscape of trees stained into the wood was unveiled, it was hailed as daring and unique. It inspired many—and it made some bristle. But there was no denying it was distinctly Oregon.

Here at Santa Clara, Baumgartner knew the floor of the Leavey Center was due for a makeover. It was 14 years old. The logo needed to be updated to match the return to the new, classic logo for SCU Athletics. But Baumgartner envisioned something bigger for Santa Clara’s court than a refresh.

When she saw Hatfield, she saw an opportunity for the program.

“He is the best when it comes to this. He’s the only one,” Baumgartner says. “I walked up to him and I said, ‘Hey, Tinker. Would you consider designing a floor for Santa Clara?’”

He would. He did. 

THE DESIGN

Renee Baumgartner confesses that, once she’d asked Hatfield to tackle the design, what started as excitement quickly turned to mild apprehension. Hatfield has a history of nontraditional designs when it comes to shoes: patent leather, chrome, holograms, elephant grain leather, interchangeable midsoles, zebra-print patterns, and infrared coloring. 

“No one would hire me to do something more normal,” Hatfield says. 

As the new A.D., Baumgartner was hired to bring new ideas, but she wondered if Hatfield’s design would mesh with Santa Clara. If there’s one thing 30 years in design taught Hatfield, it’s to know what a client wants. Teenagers buying sneakers want flash. Jesuits want something else. 

“Here we are on this absolutely stunning campus with this wonderful mission-style architecture with these Spanish and Mexican influences,” Hatfield says. It was only natural to ask, “How could we leverage that?”

Hatfield started looking at pictures of campus in late September before coming across a photo of the Mission Church. Perfect. He submitted his first design in November and it was finalized in January. 

“The messaging here is that this is a university that plays sports but it’s also about academics. It’s about faith. It’s about a beautiful environment,” Hatfield says. “I think that’s what we’re trying to say here all in one image.”

“He nailed it,” Baumgartner says. “It’s iconic Santa Clara.” 

MAKING IT A REALITY

Joe Gonyea III ’84 was key in taking the design from a computer screen to the hardwood. Gonyea is partner and chief executive officer at Timber Products Company of Springfield, Oregon. The hardwood lumber division of Timber Products is one of the largest gym floor suppliers in the country and responsible for Oregon’s floor. 

Gonyea arranged Timber Products to donate a shipment of sustainably certified A1 white maple from Michigan to be used for the Santa Clara floor. In addition, the Gonyea family—including his dad Joseph H. Gonyea II ’60 and brother David W. Gonyea ’93—provided a gift to make the project happen. Gonyea then worked with two of his vendors, Connor Sports flooring and HY Floor and Gameline Painting, to facilitate installation. 

Since Hatfield used a photo instead of a logo, the specificity of the colors could only be achieved using a paint and seal mixture, rather than normal paint. This way they could use several layers to find the correct color for each part. 

The crew didn’t have much time to create the blends but it had to be perfect. Hatfield flew into Santa Clara to spot-check the colors. They started with a 6-foot-by-6-foot block and, after Hatfield signed off, proceeded to the rest of the floor. 

“It’s an iconic design that I think well represents our broader community at Santa Clara,” Gonyea says. “It’s exciting to see the reinvestment in athletics.”

“THAT’S SANTA CLARA!” 

This basketball floor is more than a playing surface. It’s a brand. Each time Santa Clara University plays on television, viewers will immediately know where they are. They’ll see the Mission and learn something about the school. 

“It ties a lot into the Santa Clara 2020 frame of bringing national visibility,” Baumgartner says. “We needed something that’s very quick to the eye that people can recognize.”

Everybody sees their court as a chance to market themselves, Hatfield says, but most aren’t smart about it. They simply blow up their logo to fill the court, which is a bit juvenile, he says. Too loud. 

“This is a unique opportunity to speak about this gem in the valley that is Santa Clara University,” Hatfield says. “I can’t think of a better way to do that but to be simple about it and describe it in the form of a beautiful piece of architecture.” 

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