Scripting a Career Beyond Basketball

When National Basketball Association All-Star Kevin Durant suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in the first half of Game 5 of June’s NBA Finals, it all but ended the Golden State Warriors’ two-year championship reign. Without Durant, the two-time NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, the Warriors went on to lose the championship to the Toronto Raptors in six games.

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant

The devastating injury will keep former NBA Most Valuable Player Durant — who two months later would sign a long-term deal to play for the Brooklyn Nets — off the basketball court for most of the 2019-20 season. But it hasn’t hampered his drive into the entertainment arena as an executive producer and entrepreneur. And that push has earned him recognition as the 2019 Multichannel News Athlete of the Year among men. 

From serving as executive producer of ESPN Plus’s sophomore sports series The Boardroom, to his hands-on development of Fox Sports’s prison sports documentary Q Ball and the upcoming scripted drama series Swagger for Apple TV+, Durant is looking to match the success he’s had in his fruitful 12-year NBA career.

“In addition to being a two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP, Kevin Durant is an accomplished entrepreneur with a deep passion for storytelling,” NBA deputy commissioner and chief operating officer Mark Tatum said. “Kevin’s investments across sports, media, technology and philanthropy demonstrate his wide variety of interests and his commitment to making an impact in communities around the world.”

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Durant, 31, who was drafted second by the Seattle SuperSonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder) in the 2007 NBA Draft, has already had what is arguably a hall of fame career. Heading into this season, the 10-time All-Star has already won a Rookie of the Year Award, two Olympic Gold Medals and four NBA scoring titles to go with his two NBA championships and two NBA Finals MVP awards as a member of the Warriors.

Penchant for Storytelling

While Durant has made his mark in the NBA, TV industry executives said his talents go beyond the basketball court. Durant in 2016 co-founded media company Thirty Five Ventures with business partner Rich Kleiman with the idea of telling stories through the lens of sports, according to Thirty Five Ventures general manager Sarah Flynn.

“As the business of sports has changed, fans want and expect more access to what goes on off the court/field, and it's important to show them the way that athletes and executives are really talking about their business,” Flynn said. “Kevin is extremely involved in the process.”

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Former NBA player Jay Williams said Durant — through content from Thirty Five Ventures — is one of several elite athletes, including fellow NBA star LeBron James, who are breaking down barriers in the sports documentary genre by developing content that allows athletes to provide an unfiltered point of view about issues on and off the field of play.

“Kevin Durant can now say, ‘Hey, you might not like exactly what I have to say, but this is how I feel,’” said Williams, who played for the Chicago Bulls in the early 2000s and currently co-hosts ESPN Plus’s sports documentary series The Boardroom, executive produced by Durant.

The Boardroom, in which Durant and prominent business executives talk about the business of sports from the perspective of those in the trenches, will launch its second season in February 2020. ESPN Plus vice president of original content Brian Lockhart said Durant’s input and flexibility in creating content that offers a unique, behind-the-scenes look at the business of sports has been instrumental in the show’s development. In its six-episode first season, The Boardroom delved into such topics as the burgeoning sneaker industry, team ownership, athlete brand-building and player development and the business of social media.

“I think the show is driven by a genuine curiosity by Kevin in the topic as he himself was going through learning what the broader business industry had to offer,” Lockhart said. “He wanted to have a conversation that included an athlete’s perspective in that space.”

Durant has also turned his passion for basketball into several other television projects. Thirty Five Ventures recently teamed with Imagine Entertainment, CBS Television Studios and Apple to produce Swagger, a scripted series based on Durant’s early basketball career, for Apple TV+. Actor Winston Duke (Black Panther, Us) will star in the series, which has already begun production.

Durant also helped turn a 2015 visit he made with the Golden State Warriors to San Quentin State Prison in California into a Fox Sports documentary, Q Ball, which debuted on Fox Sports in May after a brief theatrical run.

Hands-On Producer

Q Ball director Michael Tolajian said Durant was enthusiastic to get behind the project, which chronicled the lives of incarcerated basketball players at the state penitentiary. Durant participated in the editing for the project, and also filmed more than a dozen promos and clips promoting the documentary that he personally shared through social media.

“Almost instantaneously they responded positively and wanted to be involved in the project as executive producers and help us create and promote the show,” said Tolajian, who also serves as Fox Sports Films senior vice president. “It wasn’t just about him throwing his name on the project — he had been to San Quentin and he was passionate about it, so he was able to be involved early on creatively on the theme of the project. We couldn’t ask for a better partnership than to have someone who believes in the project … it was very much a win-win all the way around.”

Kevin Durant (c.) with Stephen A. Smith and Jay Williams in ‘The Boardroom.’

Kevin Durant (c.) with Stephen A. Smith and Jay Williams in ‘The Boardroom.’

Tolajian also said he thinks Durant has a bright future in the entertainment business once he hangs up his sneakers.

“I think his interest in entertainment is genuine, and I don’t see why he wouldn’t continue,” he said. “If and when he has another idea, believe me, we want to hear it.”

Added ESPN Plus’s Lockhart: “I can tell just by interacting with him that he has a passion for creating content, whether it’s The Boardroom or his new Apple TV+ scripted series, I see him being super excited about taking that next step in his career whenever the NBA career is over.

“I believe that he would love to be doing more in the entertainment space ... but he’s still very focused on his primary career,” Lockhart said. 

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.