LeBron James Kevin Durant
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

On his quest to become the biggest mogul in sports, Kevin Durant may follow LeBron James and sign with the New York Knicks this summer.

Geoffrey Campbell

LeBron James’s greatest gift to the modern-day athlete has been his unwavering ownership and creative control of all decisions related to his brand and basketball identity. A business and basketball savant, James has never been afraid of change or reinventing himself.

On July first, Kevin Durant, arguably the most talented and skilled player in the NBA, will be at a major crossroads. And while signing with the New York Knicks, a reinvention of epic proportions would be a step towards forging his own path, the LBJ influence would be ever-present as well.

Outside of on-the-court dominance, Durant also seeks to surpass James with his off-the-court business ventures. His goals are likely to become the biggest entrepreneur and investor in professional sports. Furthermore, Durant, even if he hasn’t said so directly, fancies himself as the league’s premier lynch-pin and talisman to his own super-team.

Remember, earlier this season, Durant called the environment around James “toxic.” He also spoke about players like Kevin Love and Chris Bosh as well other young players sacrificing their games to fit with James. Between the lines, what he also said was that those same players, whether they’re elite or rookies wouldn’t have to make the same sacrifice. Durant essentially marketed himself as the most adaptable superstar in the game.

But in order to surpass James off the court, he will have to do what every great artist, actor and entrepreneur does, master the art of reinvention. And this is where New York and the Knicks come into play.

Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes Sports Money wrote about James’s current net worth of $450 million. Prior to signing with the Lakers and moving to Los Angeles, James and business partner Maverick Carter created the multimedia site Uninterrupted. Since then, James has cornered the market on producing content in the entertainment capital of the world.

James is set to start filming Space Jam 2 this summer. His production company, SpringHill Entertainment, is connected with several TV shows and movies and his new series More than an Athlete is set to debut on Walt Disney’s ESPN+.

But for all his forays into the entertainment industry, James also has an ownership stake in Liverpool football club, a soccer team in England, and he has invested significant money into Blaze Pizza, one of the fastest growing chain restaurants in the country.

New York Knicks

James’s move to the Lakers was made with his legacy in mind, as both a basketball player and a businessman. James has the opportunity to resurrect one of the most famous sports franchises in the world. If year one told us anything, the process will be difficult. But James, at 34 years old, has proven that he won’t let failure or fear motivate his decisions.

James won two titles with the Miami Heat and left to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014. James learned the trade of winning from Pat Riley and the Heat culture. But apart from bringing a title back to his home state, James also knew, deep down, that Miami would always be Dwyane Wade‘s team.

Bottom line is that in James’ quest to become a billionaire, he continues to reinvent himself as an entertainer, basketball player, and businessman.

That leads us to Durant.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN wrote about Durant’s journey into the investment world with his business partner and close friend, Rich Kleiman. Prior to joining the Golden State Warriors, Durant was enamored with the opportunities, both on and off the court. Shelburne explains:

“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.”

Durant was also at a transition point in his life. He felt that he wanted to live in a more diverse community such as the Bay Area as opposed to Oklahoma City which would help him develop more as a person. Part of this reinvention was also related to basketball in that, once Durant started playing with the Warriors he figured out that he needed to learn more about the game of basketball. In essence, this transformation was akin to James learning how to win with the Heat.

Durant, with the Warriors, learned an unselfish brand of basketball that helped him win two NBA titles and Finals MVP’s. Off the court, traces of James could be seen in Durant’s moves as well.

KD and Kleiman have invested in over 50 companies, including Postmates, numerous tech startups, a drone company called Skydio and a headphones company called Master & Dynamic. They’ve also entered into the entertainment industry with the ESPN+ show The Boardroom, in which players discuss the business of the NBA including trends, technology, and culture. Shelburne also writes that part of Kleiman’s role with Durant is to make sure he is “purposeful” with his investments and that he enjoys the process of learning about new business and evaluating their potential.

The word “purposeful” is key because Durant’s impending free agency comes at another watershed moment in his career. Durant is ready for another reinvention. On the court, Durant is ready to be the focal point of a franchise where he feels he can recruit the league’s elite to come to play with him, without sacrificing their games.

Yet, despite being the best all-around player on the Warriors, Durant knows that Stephen Curry will always rule supreme in the Bay Area and when the team moves to San Francisco as well. And if Durant had any doubts of this, those thoughts were quickly dispelled when general manager Bob Meyers made the following ill-timed comments post 2018 championship.

Off-the-court, Durant’s reinvention could be realized if he takes hold of one of the largest media and investment markets on the east coast. James has L.A. but Durant can set foot in New York City to become the ultimate alpha-dog in a town with names like Eli Manning and Aaron Judge. According to Shelburne, Durant and Kleiman’s company, Thirty-Five Ventures is moving to New York City. Kleiman is on record as saying that he wants recognition for Durant.

Could the real-estate market be in KD’s future? According to Jeffery Steele of Forbes, it is definitely a buyer’s market. Rising supply of unsold property in Manhattan has driven down prices creating and interesting opportunity for people in the market for real estate. Outside of Manhattan, properties in Brooklyn and communities in Queens have been on the rise for quite some time. But Durant’s journey into the investment world is not just driven by dollars in cents.

KD, at his core, is a man of the people. Back in 2017, Marcus Thompson II wrote about Durant’s integration into the Bay Area and how he made it home. Thompson discussed Durant’s desire to create “memories” for people by building basketball courts for communities that have been hit by gentrification. Thompson writes:

“I see where it’s going with gentrification,” Durant said. “I’m looking at these town homes here or high rises here or big homes here. I wonder where all these people (who once lived here) go and I wonder how they feel just getting overpowered. I think here there’s a lot of lost voices and unheard voices and a lot of lost souls that can’t really get close to us. … I know I can’t touch every single person. But they can hear my voice. They can know I’ve got an imprint. Y’all know I can’t do everything, but I can do something.”

With plenty of opportunities to make an impact like this in New York, Durant can continue his evolution as a philanthropist and investor.

Gone are the days of the NBA’s elite staying with one team for their entire career. Debates about loyalty aside, legitimate arguments can be made that these superstars are not just chasing championships. They’re chasing communities, media markets, entertainment, endorsement and investment opportunities that dovetail with their personality and where they are in life. Durant has conquered silicon valley and he’s won two NBA championships, playing on one of the best teams to ever step on a court.

And like James, Durant is now ready for the next stage of his life. An established businessman and an MVP candidate in any league, KD won’t be scared to face the challenge of bringing winning back to the big apple.

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