The story of When Kevin Met Rich started at a Jay-Z concert in 2008. Kleiman represented rapper Wale. Wale met Durant because they were both from the DC area. Before the show, Jay-Z's manager invited Durant to the backstage to meet HOV. In a moment of self-doubt of 19 years, Durant resisted. A bad case of imposter syndrome established in.
"He was just a rookie," says Durant. "Who the hell am I to get in? Like, I'm probably going in there and seeing Kobe or LeBron, I can not sit there, talking to them yet, I'm not up there, that level."
Kleiman loves telling this story. It remains the essence of his relationship with Durant. He is always begging Durant to talk more about the business and the philanthropic companies they have built together. Durant is always moving humbly away from the spotlight. Because while Durant can impose his will on the basketball court, he is still a little reluctant to flex.
"I know Rich wants to do that more: defend what I've done," says Durant. "But at the same time, I'm not trying to exaggerate with this, we're not looking to set the flag and say," Me. "This is Thirty Five Media all over the world. Make sure you pay attention to us!
In this sense, Durant knows exactly who he is. He is not a swindler or an exaggerated man. He is a hooper who needs people like Kleiman and the marketing firm of Thirty Five Ventures, Sarah Flynn, to build their business and brand for him. The company has 10 employees at this time, but is moving to a new office building in New York City, as Durant continues what it insists on a careful expansion. "I feel like you can do it in a more strategic way," he says. "If you put on too much and then you give yourself wrong … it's not right".
Kleiman laughs. If Durant feels more comfortable minimizing his achievements and ambitions, he's fine with that.
"If they left me to my fate, sometimes I become Flava Flav," Kleiman jokes. "It does not affect my work, my salary, my property, anything, if people in Prince George's County do not fully understand the magnitude of what Kevin is doing." [in opening the Durant Center]. However, it keeps me awake at night, on his behalf. That's how much I want [recognition] for him."
This reluctance to self-promote is part of the reason why Durant was intrigued by the concept of the show. He knew he could not be the only athlete who took the time to find his position in the business world or wondered if he belonged to Jay-Z's wardrobe.
"I did not have the experience of being in that room," says Durant of himself as a rookie. "Once I started to gain experience, I had something to give back in those conversations, I felt more comfortable."
However, it took him almost a decade to get there. And even now, he finds himself asking more questions to the people he meets than responding.
"The interesting part about KD in the program is that you're watching how he learns with you," says Williams. "Nobody is trying to say: 'Hello, we are the leaders of the free world and we know everything there is to know.' This is like an exploratory trip."
For durant and Kleiman, Williams was the perfect choice to present the show. They felt that her own story of venturing into the business world-her career as a professional player ended with a motorcycle accident that had passed a year-gave her a unique perspective.
As the No. 2 pick in the 2002 NBA draft, he had the same kind of golden path that Durant made as the No. 2 pick five years later. "I'm 18, 19 years old, and I'm sitting looking at Puff [Daddy] play the piano, [Scooter Braun] He is throwing me to sign with Bad Boy, and I say, "How the hell is this going?"
" he says.
"At that time, nobody really saw how inefficient the model was, his agent has 25, 30 more people and then they hire a marketing director who was just dividing his time."
Then everything went away. His second race had to start before his first time took off. And he began to formulate the kinds of existential questions that you can see only once your existence has been fundamentally altered.
"I just think that now there are guys who drive the car, whereas before they would sit in the back and let the owner drive the car," says Williams. "The currency has changed, men still make sponsorship deals, but now it's not about endorsements, it's about how I have capital, how do I get a multiple of 10 in what my investment is?"
In the last two decades, the best athletes have fundamentally changed the sports business in the same way that Jay-Z and Diddy changed the music industry. Why let the record label be the owner of your songs, or let your agents control your image, when you can produce them, distribute them and own them yourself?
It happened organically at the beginning. Then the warriors took him to a new level. Players like Andre Iguodala and Stephen Curry began to get comfortable with the venture capitalists and the digerati who drove from Silicon Valley to sit on the court in the Warriors games. At the time the team went to the Hamptons to introduce Durant to join as a free agent in 2016, the opportunity to immerse himself in the vibrant Bay Area business scene was an important point of sale.
"It was like, 'Listen, man, we're a family, we're going to embrace your interests,'" says Iguodala about how the team talked to Durant. "I mean, you're going to turn it into a business anyway, so we can help in any way possible, and we have a property that feels the same way."
Joe Lacob, owner and capitalist of the Warriors, says he does everything he can to create a culture that fosters personal growth and exploration.
"I was really good as an investor for 30 years, but I always knew it in my second life, I wanted to have another business life, because it revitalizes you," explains Lacob. "And for me, that was about sports, so I left the VC industry completely and went to do this full time.
"While you're in your main race, I think you're trying to prepare for your second race, and hopefully, by the time your first race has reached a normal logical end point, you'll be ready to dive in and do it. what happened to me, that's what these guys should also do, they're not going to be experts in investing while they're players, but they can be learning, and by learning to meet important people, learn from a few investments. finish, I hope you are ready to take the next step, turn it into a second life. "
Ask him to He wants to be doing in his second life, after he finishes his playing career, and he sounds a little like Phil Jackson. "I could be in Montana on a ranch by the water, or live on the slopes, I do not know what I could be doing, I just like what I'm preparing for myself, something sustainable."
At 30, he has a lot more basketball to play and great decisions about where he will spend the rest of his career still to be done. For now, he focuses on building a legacy on and off the court, starting with a $ 10 million investment in the learning center that bears his name.
But before you get to the opening ceremony of that center, you need to make a stop. It's almost 4 in the afternoon and he has not had time to have lunch. So while Durant and his team make their way from the elegant hotel of the Warriors' team in Georgetown to Prince George's County, their caravan of SUVs stops at a convenience store to buy a croissant and some sweets. No matter how far Durant travels in life, the sweet tooth comes with it. As a child growing up in these streets, Durant used to stop at McDonald's where his brother worked and fill his glass of water with Sprite.
On this day, he is telling that story to the first group of children who will be supported by the Durant Center.
"I told them that this building has my name, but it's yours," says Durant. "You're going to spend more time here than I. Make it your home."
Durant had wanted to expand his charitable donations in the same way that he had expanded his business portfolio. Real money – in this case, a full third of his current annual salary of $ 30 million – that would really make a difference for children who walked the same path he walked once. In 2018 alone, he donated a total of $ 3 million to the basketball and sports leadership programs at the University of Texas and committed these $ 10 million (more than 10 years) to the Durant Center.
"That's doing something," he says. "We earn a lot of money, so we should be able to return it."
Only a handful of media entities were invited to the opening of the learning center, and he sent them all when he met privately with a small group of the 59 students of the inaugural class, who will participate in the tutoring after the school, summer. Personal development programs and workshops throughout high school and even college.
"I can remember being a high school student here, living next door," says Durant. "I was the number 2 player in the country, and my mother and I were living in a two-bedroom house next to here, you're still getting up in the fight."
Look around the gym at Suitland High, where he attended ninth grade. It is full of people who knew him then, or as if to affirm that they did it. A group of high school students follows him everywhere, hoping to get advice, or maybe just a selfie.
Durant seems really moved.
"That's what life is about," he says.
It seems to be making an effort to connect with each person who communicates, even if it's just a quick interaction. Not too long ago I was too afraid to approach Jay-Z in his dressing room, too shy to ask for advice, or maybe just a selfie. Sometimes the entry barriers are made by themselves. If he can help others find their trust, that feels important.
It is both vertiginous and inspiring: the culmination of 30 years of work and self-discovery, but also a first attempt to shape a legacy.
"We all like different things," he says. "We're all going to do different things, but something is going to unite us, maybe it's here."
This story appears in the March issue of ESPN. Subscribe today!