KEVIN DU­RANT’S HARD­EST THREE-POINT PLAY

THE NBA SU­PER­STAR HAS COME TO NEW YORK WITH THREE GOALS IN MIND: A RE­TURN TO DOM­I­NANCE, A DEFIN­ING CHAM­PI­ONSHIP AND A LAST­ING BUSI­NESS EM­PIRE. THEY’RE ALL IN­TER­CON­NECTED.

Forbes Middle East - - CONTENTS - BY STEVEN BER­TONI

The NBA su­per­star has come to New York with three goals in mind: a re­turn to dom­i­nance, a defin­ing cham­pi­onship and a last­ing busi­ness em­pire. They're all in­ter­con­nected.

The sleek and in­fin­itely long apart­ment over­look­ing Man­hat­tan's sleek and in­fin­itely long High Line park per­fectly, if un­in­ten­tion­ally, frames the owner of this man­sion in the sky, the NBA su­per­star Kevin Du­rant, who is so trim he looks even taller than 6 feet 10. Set­tling into his (yes, in­fi­nite) blue vel­vet couch, Du­rant can tog­gle be­tween the stun­ning sky­line and his tro­phys­tacked of­fice, filled with a mu­seum's worth of MVP, All-Star and other su­perla­tive hard­ware. (His two NBA cham­pi­onship rings, won with the Golden State War­riors, have a spe­cial home in the bed­room.)

But Du­rant's fo­cus is on present chal­lenges, rather than past tri­umphs. Across from his tro­phy room sit a Pi­lates ma­chine and a cage­like strength and bal­ance trainer called a Sen­so­pro, here to as­sist a ca­reer-sav­ing come­back as he re­habs the Achilles ten­don he rup­tured dur­ing June's NBA Fi­nals in front of a tele­vi­sion au­di­ence of 18 mil­lion. That sea­son was done—the cur­rent one too. “What's most im­por­tant is to take care of my body so I can put my prod­uct back on the court,” Du­rant says, fresh from a work­out wear­ing a printed hoodie fea­tur­ing the an­ti­hero from the film A Clock­work Or­ange and black-and-or­ange Jor­dan high-tops. “How well you play on the court de­ter­mines how big your busi­ness is go­ing to grow.”

That busi­ness starts with a $164 mil­lion con­tract he signed with the Brook­lyn Nets this sum­mer and a ten-year, $275 mil­lion Nike shoe deal that as­sumes his con­tin­ued su­per­star­dom. With those two alone, he will earn more than $70 mil­lion this sea­son with­out suit­ing up for a sin­gle game. Du­rant's goal is to turn that in­come into as­sets at a scale few ath­letes not named Jor­dan or Le­Bron have at­tempted.

Brook­lyn is Du­rant's fourth ca­reer stop. He was orig­i­nally drafted by the Seat­tle Su­per­Son­ics, which soon moved the fran­chise to Ok­la­homa City, where he be­came a su­per­star play­ing for the Thun­der. In the Bay Area, when he de­camped to the Golden State War­riors, he be­came a cham­pion, a light­ning rod—many fans cyn­i­cally viewed him as jump­ing onto the Stephen Curry jug­ger­naut that was al­ready mint­ing ti­tles—and an entreprene­ur.

In choos­ing Brook­lyn, he seeks to re­de­fine all three as­pects. Can the su­per­star come back from a dev­as­tat­ing pub­lic in­jury to dom­i­nate the league again? Can he win a cham­pi­onship with a team cen­tered on him? (He's al­ready flexed new mus­cles there, es­chew­ing the high-pro­file New York Knicks, a pair­ing seem­ingly pre­or­dained, for the up­start Nets.) And can he trans­late his Sil­i­con

Val­ley lessons to the world cap­i­tal of cap­i­tal as well as -of me­dia and fash­ion. “Walk­ing around New York,” Du­rant says, “there is so much great­ness, hard work and de­ter­mi­na­tion.”

Du­rant's out­side busi­ness ve­hi­cle: Thirty Five Ven­tures, co­founded with his man­ager, Rich Kleiman, a mu­sic in­dus­try vet­eran who pre­vi­ously helped start the sports divi­sion of Jay-Z's tal­ent agency, Roc Na­tion. Thirty Five Ven­tures has 15 full-time em­ploy­ees run­ning Du­rant's en­dorse­ments, foun­da­tion, and ex­pand­ing col­lec­tion of star­tups and me­dia plays. Over the past few years he's plowed more than $15 mil­lion into 40plus star­tups. Nearly 70% of the com­pa­nies have raised sub­se­quent rounds at higher val­u­a­tions, scor­ing what Du­rant claims are pa­per gains top­ping 400%.

More di­rectly, Thirty Five Ven­tures has a pro­duc­tion arm cre­at­ing bas­ket­ball-themed doc­u­men­taries, se­ries and scripted shows for out­lets like Ap­ple, YouTube and ESPN. “Le­Bron James was the first case study that you can build a real busi­ness while you're play­ing,” says Kleiman. “Kevin is build­ing a real and au­then­tic com­pany.”

For Du­rant, a 30 Un­der 30 alum who re­cently hit the grand old age of 31, the goal is noth­ing short of a ten-digit net worth. By the time his play­ing ca­reer is over, he'll have made well over $500 mil­lion from salary and spon­sor­ships. Now, Du­rant says, “I want to use the checks I get from com­pa­nies to create true gen­er­a­tional wealth.”

Du­rant was raised by his mother in Prince Ge­orge's County, Mary­land, out­side Washington, D.C., in a rough neigh­bor­hood where he was al­ways look­ing over his shoul­der. By mid­dle school, he was 6 feet and mostly look­ing down. By 17, he was the MVP of McDon­ald's High School All-Amer­i­can Game. By 18, Col­lege Player of the Year at the Univer­sity of Texas. By 19, NBA Rookie of the Year. And so on, all the way to league MVP recog­ni­tion and sev­eral runs at the crown with the Thun­der and then his 2016 de­ci­sion to join the team he couldn't beat—sign­ing a $54 mil­lion con­tract with the War­riors. The move would for­ever al­ter his brand and his busi­ness.

Du­rant first took an in­ter­est in the money game when he was weigh­ing com­pet­ing en­dorse­ment of­fers from Nike and Un­der Ar­mour in 2014: “I learned a lot about the busi­ness side through that. It re­ally broke things down for me.” Ok­la­homa City of­fered slim op­tions. “There's oil and real es­tate,” Du­rant says, “but that was a real old boys' club, and it was hard to break into.” With one foot still in the oil patch, Du­rant and Kleiman waded

into the tech world, lob­by­ing to in­vest in the de­liv­ery startup Post­mates and the robo-in­vestor Acorns.

In the Bay Area as a Golden State War­rior, though, he had VIP ac­cess to the world's hottest star­tups. “All the founders and in­vestors come [to War­riors games], and you get to in­ter­act with and meet them,” Du­rant says. “They look like nor­mal peo­ple, but they are chang­ing the world so fast and have so much power.”

Du­rant soon struck up friend­ships with the likes of Lau­rene Pow­ell Jobs, Marc An­dreessen and Ben Horowitz, Airbnb's Brian Ch­esky and Joe Geb­bia, and ex­ec­u­tives from Google and Ap­ple. In the Sil­i­con Val­ley startup scene, at once square and sta­tus-ob­sessed, Du­rant money was sexy, at­tract­ing press, street cred and cus­tomers. Soon came in­vest­ments in Coin­base, Robin­hood, Caf­feine TV, Im­per­fect Food, Lime scoot­ers and more. “He learned about what it takes to start com­pa­nies and in­vest in com­pa­nies,” says Eddy Cue, the head of Ap­ple's vast in­ter­net soft­ware and ser­vices divi­sion, who first met Du­rant for din­ner and ended up talk­ing with him un­til 3 a.m. “When you're win­ning, ev­ery­one's in­ter­ested in learn­ing what makes you tick, and Kevin was smart to take full ad­van­tage of meet­ing peo­ple.”

So will this playbook work in New York, Amer­ica's other busi­ness cap­i­tal, a place that's more di­ver­si­fied and less starstruck? To Du­rant's credit, as he did around San Fran­cisco, he's em­brac­ing the lo­cal ethos—in­clud­ing the city loft, from which he can walk to Thirty Five's soonto-open 4,500-square-foot Chelsea head­quar­ters. “New York will be the cul­mi­na­tion of the dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties Kevin's touched, and it will take our com­pany to the next level,” says Kleiman, who met Du­rant orig­i­nally through a mu­tual friend, the mu­si­cian Wale, at a Jay-Z con­cert at Madi­son Square Gar­den.

If the Bay Area was about Du­rant latch­ing onto deals, New York is about own­ing his own me­dia. There's Swag­ger, a scripted se­ries based on Du­rant's early life backed by the Hol­ly­wood ti­tan Brian Grazer; it'll be dis­trib­uted on Ap­ple's new stream­ing ser­vice (thanks in part to his friend­ship with Cue, the Ap­ple ex­ec­u­tive). Lower-bud­get se­ries and shorts live on his YouTube chan­nel, which now ap­proaches 800,000 sub­scribers. Du­rant's fran­chise, The Board­room, cov­ers the busi­ness around elite ath­letes with a web­site, news­let­ter and ESPN show. “The younger gen­er­a­tion is look­ing for ac­cess and au­then­tic­ity,” says ESPN pres­i­dent James Pi­taro.

All these ini­tia­tives possess an in­cred­i­bly po­tent mar­ket­ing so­lu­tion, the ten-bag­ger kind. The se­cret sits in those work­out ma­chines in Du­rant's apart­ment. No player of Du­rant's cal­iber has ever re­turned from a rup­tured Achilles to the same level of dom­i­nance. No player in al­most half a cen­tury has brought an NBA tro­phy to the coun­try's largest city, one mad for bas­ket­ball. “The team is in the garage stage, where we are put­ting the idea to­gether. It's more in­ti­mate, ev­ery­one un­der­stands the goal and has a fresh ex­pe­ri­ence,” Du­rant says. “A cham­pi­onship would be a whole other level, but in­ject­ing a new en­ergy into a city through bas­ket­ball would be even cooler.”

If Du­rant can pull this off, he's now po­si­tioned him­self to reap. Acorns and Lime scoot­ers will suc­ceed or fail with­out him. With his new ini­tia­tives and his own as­sets, he con­trols his destiny, and the sky's the limit. “I want to own and run an NBA team—run day-to-day op­er­a­tions and im­pact young play­ers com­ing through the league,” he says, tick­ing off the path that Michael Jor­dan took to be­come a bil­lion­aire.

“I started down here,” Du­rant adds, lean­ing for­ward to touch the floor of his apart­ment with his gi­gan­tic hand. “I know there'll be kids pop­ping up in my fam­ily, and I want them to start above this roof. The only way to get there for your fam­ily is to create money, and I want to do it in a cooler way, not just be­ing greedy and ac­cu­mu­lat­ing as much as I can.”

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