Sports News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion

Some Selections From The First Half Or So Of ESPN's Longform Article About Kevin Durant's ESPN+ Show About Kevin Durant's Brand

Photo: Christian Petersen (Getty)

It would be insulting and demeaning to all involved for me to try to convince you, the reader, of the grossness of “Kevin Durant: The Making of a Mogul.” The story is a longform sponcon advertorial for Kevin Durant’s ESPN+ show about Kevin Durant’s branding efforts that appears, sort of halfheartedly costumed as a journalistic profile of Kevin Durant, on ESPN’s website today. It would be like presuming to explain to you that tall things are tall. I respect you too much for that!

Instead, I will show you some of my favorite bits from “Kevin Durant: The Making of a Mogul,” the longform sponcon advertorial for Kevin Durant’s ESPN+ show about Kevin Durant’s branding efforts that appears, sort of halfheartedly costumed as a journalistic profile, on ESPN’s website today. Maybe reading them here in this format, with my own suitably half-assed annotations, will dissuade you from ingesting the poison directly from its source, and then I can feel like I performed a public service.

As one of the best basketball players on the planet, Durant can meet anyone he thinks is interesting, invest in any company he digs and get into any event he wants. Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey? He flew in for Durant’s birthday party this year. Apple VP Eddy Cue? A huge Warriors fan whose company just greenlighted a scripted show called Swagger based on Durant’s experiences in AAU basketball. David Geffen, Oprah, Diane von Furstenberg? Durant hung out with them at Google’s invite-only celebrity camp at the Verdura Resort in Sicily the past few summers.

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Kevin Durant is supremely famous, extravagantly wealthy, has one of the coolest jobs in human history, and likes to hang out with the Twitter herb who got sonned into hell by Ashley Feinberg. To me that’s extremely cool and not at all depressing.

A great brand is a lot like a great jump shot:

A great brand is a lot like a great jump shot.

Shot jump great a like lot a is brand great a.

Like a great jump shot a great brand is a lot.

Andre Ratbag likes to grasp Juliet Thoma.

(I never trusted that guy!)

The best ones appear effortless. And yet, underneath the surface, years of sweat, grind and refinement have gone into it. Athletes used to wait until they were done playing to start building their businesses off the court. They’d let their teams or agents with dozens of other clients handle their marketing. Even back then, they knew they were leaving money and leverage on the table. But who had the bandwidth to build out a portfolio while playing?

In the business world, that’s called a market gap. Customers want a product that doesn’t exist yet? Somebody should go create that product.

In this case, first a superstar athlete such as Durant had to believe he was capable of building his own brand while playing. Then he had to figure out how to do it.

Kevin Durant invented doing investments and business ventures and “building his own brand” during a sports playing career. The guy is a true visionary. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, LeBron James, Serena and Venus Williams, Tiger Woods, Floyd Mayweather, Oscar de la Hoya, Tom Brady—who are these? They’re sure as hell not a top-of-the-head sampling of just some of the dozens if not literal hundreds or thousands of famous professional athletes who have built successful business portfolios and personal brands during their playing careers! If they were, that would call into question the news value of a story that presents Kevin Durant as a pioneer in the field, conveniently timed to the launch of an ESPN+ show promoting his desired presentation of himself as a burgeoning business mogul! Probably I am just having a seizure or somethdoghdhslkkkkkkk—

So far they’ve invested in some 50 companies, ranging from the cold-pressed juice company WTRMLN WTR to an autonomous drone company called Skydio. There’s an equity partnership in the headphone company Master & Dynamic. And starting Feb. 11, there’s The Boardroom, a six-episode series on ESPN+ and multiplatform media brand in which Durant, [vile professional remora Rich] Kleiman and ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Williams talk with players, industry executives and insiders from the worlds of sports, business, media and technology about how the culture around sports is changing.

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Apropos of nothing, some links:

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Huh. That second link is from ... three days ago? Seems like that might have made its way into an article at least nominally about the challenges that face an athlete building out a business portfolio, if the objective is to tell a true story and not to, say, help the athlete pitch himself as a savvy investor with a golden touch? Seems like maybe, if you were a reporter doing an actual journalistic profile pegged to Kevin Durant’s efforts to establish himself as a “business mogul,” you would ask him about the legal troubles of the, ah, watermelon water brand he has chosen to offer as an example of his investment acumen? The evident fact that the watermelon water brand cannot even accomplish bottling and selling frickin’ watermelon juice without filling its containers with “soft plastic pieces” that necessitate a recall—that would come up at some point, yeah?

Maybe they ran out of space, amid all the vitally important stuff about the TV show Durant is launching, literally today, on the network that also published the story. Who can know.

“Me and Rich always had these times where it was just him and I, brainstorming,” Durant says.

So why not turn those conversations into a show?

“Why not turn those conversations into a show?” - ESPN reporter, to Kevin Durant, who has a show debuting today on ESPN+, about those conversations.

“I was watching sports last year, and there was a headline about an investment that Kevin had made. Then a headline about a Liverpool investment that LeBron had made. Then some Yankees highlights.”

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“I was watching sports last year.” Ah yes, who can forget, that time I watched sports last year. Love to watch sports, at least once per year. Whatcha doin’, honey? Oh nothing dear, just watching the famous sports, which I definitely know about and watch. Today the sports I am watching features a headline about Kevin Durant doing an investment.

If there’s one thing I am now sure of, it is that Rich Kleiman has never watched any sport, ever, in his whole life. He does not even know what the word “sports” refers to. If you ask him, he gets sweaty and his eyes shift from side to side and he asks to use the bathroom and never returns.

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Anyway, if you decide to watch Kevin Durant’s ESPN+ show in which ESPN helps Kevin Durant present himself as a gimlet-eyed Gordon Gekko type, for the purpose of burnishing the value of his personal brand and thereby the brands in which he invests his money, please do not tell anybody that you are watching “sports.” Be honest and tell them you are watching The Apprentice.

This reluctance to self-promote is part of the reason Durant was intrigued by the concept of the show.

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It’s great to put a line like this in a longform sponcon article about a famous celebrity’s efforts to promote himself, published on the website of the biggest and most powerful company in media, timed to coincide with the debut of a show, starring that celebrity, on that company’s network, about that celebrity’s efforts to promote himself. It’s great to put the phrase “reluctance to self-promote” and “Durant” in the same sentence, in that article, and not to question, even gently, whether they belong together. It’s great.

Okay, one last bit. See if you can find, in the following paragraph, the precise moment where I involuntarily made a sound like all the air going out of a zeppelin.

It happened organically at first. Then the Warriors took it to a new level. Players such as Andre Iguodala and Stephen Curry started getting chummy with the venture capitalists and digerati who drove up from Silicon Valley to sit courtside at Warriors games. By the time the team went to the Hamptons to pitch Durant on joining as a free agent in 2016, the opportunity to immerse in the Bay Area’s vibrant business scene was a major selling point.

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It was “digerati.” Don’t watch Kevin Durant’s TV show. Thank you.

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