“With venture capital,” says David Abrutyn, a partner at Bruin Sports Capital, an investment firm, “you’ve got to go in with an open mind. You’ve got to understand that if
you make 10 investments, two might hit.” Durant, who dominates the court in almost
every game he plays, hasn’t had much experience with that kind of loss ratio.
“It’s a risk,” Durant allows. “But it’s a calculated risk.”
As I drive through Hollywood with Durant and Kleiman one afternoon, the
news breaks of a blockbuster deal that will send Cleveland Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving
to the Celtics, in exchange for a 2018 draft pick and Isaiah Thomas, a player beloved by
Boston fans for leading his team, improbably, to the 2017 Conference Finals. Neither
Durant nor Kleiman had an inkling the transaction was in the works, and for a few
minutes, they converse, in growing tones of incredulity, about what it means for the
balance of power in the NBA.
Finally, Kleiman turns in my direction. As a Boston fan, am I upset? I have no right
to be, he goes on, adding an expletive for emphasis. “It’s a business, you know?”
Durant, who has joked that he’s been branded a snake so many times since leaving
the Thunder that he “might just tattoo one of those things on my arms,” quickly agrees:
“Ain’t no loyalty in this shit,” he says.
This was the Kevin Durant I see on multiple occasions during our time together: a
student of business realities and a player unsentimental about his sport and his place
A half hour later, we arrive back at Durant’s rental. The house is thrumming with
activity: In the kitchen, Durant’s personal chef is preparing dinner, and in the living
room, his stylist is arranging potential outfits
for an upcoming photo shoot. Durant pulls out a
black hoodie and nods appreciatively. Kleiman’s
phone rings: It’s Durant’s nutritionist, calling to
review a list of suggested vitamin supplements.
“What time is training?” Durant asks.
“You’ve got a few minutes,” Kleiman says,
checking his watch.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of the
upcoming basketball season for Durant. As Erik
Malinowski, the author of Betaball, a new book
about the Warriors, puts it, if 2016–17 was about
Durant “evolving as a player and a teammate,”
the upcoming season will be about carrying forward a legacy, and proving that he deserves the
fame that has followed him for the better part of
a decade. The pressure will be intense.
At the same time, Durant’s business commitments are ratcheting up. A few days after I leave L.A., he is slated to travel to Las
Vegas to appear at a tech conference with the founders of Rubrik, a cloud-based data-management platform that he recently invested in. He is also planning a few meetings
with the marketing team at Alaska Airlines, which has tapped Durant to help build
out its presence at its big new San Francisco hub, gained through its Virgin America
acquisition. Durant is taking equity in the company, and Alaska will partner with Thirty
Five Media on content for his You Tube channel.
Durant is well aware that in 2017, he is by no means the only basketball player with
a side hustle, what with Anthony, Bryant, and James tending to their tech and media
fiefdoms. But he bristles at comparisons.
“Come on, they’re all competitive. That’s their job!” Kleiman exclaims when I ask
about it. He is competitive, too: “Sometimes I’ll be like, ‘Yo, Kobe just did this,’ or ‘
Carmelo got in on that.’ Or I’ll hear that Maverick Carter”—LeBron’s business partner—
Durant stands up: He wants to go downstairs and try on some clothes for the shoot.
“I’d call it a healthy competition,” he says before descending. He smiles, then adds, “It’s
Players Technology Summit. “They know
exactly what to do with their money,” Durant
says, “and we bounce ideas off each other.”
He has also benefited from the examples
of other NBA stars. Carmelo Anthony and
Kobe Bryant have both launched venture-capital firms to power their tech investments;
LeBron James has inked content deals with
major networks, such as HBO. “In the past,
unfortunately, some athletes never gave
much thought to what would happen when
Durant has developed his own internal
formula for determining his investments.
“As a kid, he was always watching who was
coming up behind him,” says Kleiman, who
started working with Durant full time two
years ago, “and he looks for that now in creators: He wants them to be as paranoid as he
was.” Not long ago, Durant asked the founders of an autonomous drone startup, Skydio,
to give him a demo at his place in Oakland.
Durant reached over to touch the drone, and
one of the founders “jumped 10 feet in the
air,” Kleiman recalls. “And Kevin loved that:
that proprietary instinct.” (Adam Bry, the
CEO of Skydio, reports that Durant “got the
technology right away. In fact, I’d argue that
he probably understood it better than a lot of
other professional tech people.”) Durant has
since signed on as an investor.