This week, “The Boardroom,” a video series conceived of by Durant and longtime business partner Rich Kleiman, returned for its second season on ESPN Plus, the sports media giant’s digital streaming service. The series, which debuted last year and is Thirty Five Ventures’ flagship media property, traveled across the country with Durant. After filming Season 1 in Los Angeles, Season 2 was shot in New York City, where the company has set up shop in new offices at West 17th Street and Seventh Avenue in Chelsea.
“Our focus as a company didn’t change because of his injury,” Kleiman told The Washington Post by telephone. “[The company] was a great escape for Kevin at times. It’s never something that gets in the way of basketball. To have an escape in your own businesses and your enterprises that you built, it’s refreshing. He could stop in the office, use it as a reprieve from his rehabilitation work. Our world didn’t change at all. If anything, we wanted to work harder, knowing how hard he was working to get back on the court.”
Durant’s next basketball chapter is full of questions. In his absence, the Nets had a 26-32 record entering Saturday and are on pace to make the playoffs. But Kyrie Irving’s season-ending shoulder surgery has put a damper on the campaign, and an immediate return to peak form is no guarantee for Durant, 31, after his major injury.
Even so, Kleiman said he expects Durant, who has done only a handful of media interviews this season, to reclaim his spot among the NBA’s top talents.
“I have no question he’ll be back better than ever,” Kleiman said. “By next season, I expect nothing but KD. Great things will happen. Injuries are a part of the game, and it’s obviously been a bit frustrating. The Nets are still in playoff position. The players are developing and getting better. I expect things to pick up. Everyone knows what [Durant and Irving] can do when they’re playing and healthy.”
There’s actually a chance Durant returns to the court before the 2020-21 season. After winning gold medals with USA Basketball at the 2012 London Olympics and 2016 Rio Olympics, Durant was named Feb. 10 as one of 44 roster finalists for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. That competition begins in late July, more than 13 months after Durant tore his Achilles’ tendon. NBA players often return from Achilles’ injuries within a year.
“[Tokyo is] definitely a possibility,” Kleiman said. “He allowed his name to be in the group of finalists. But there are other benchmarks in front of him that are more important before he makes those decisions.”
Meanwhile, Durant appears on select episodes of “The Boardroom,” including an extended, cross-generational discussion with Hall of Fame guard Isiah Thomas and Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns. The series is produced by Kleiman and hosted by Jay Williams, the former NBA player turned ESPN commentator. It seeks to cover all aspects of sports business in a conversational format that is similar to LeBron James’s HBO barbershop talk show series, “The Shop.”
Season 1 of “The Boardroom” included episodes on sneaker collecting with Houston Rockets forward P.J. Tucker and sports ownership with Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer. Season 2 features episodes on rap, fashion, brand-building and the rise of women’s basketball. Victor Oladipo, Devin Booker, Victor Cruz and Lisa Leslie are among the guests.
The show’s eclectic subject matter reflects its goal of serving as a ride-along experience for sports-obsessed viewers who want to get a glimpse of all aspects of a superstar player’s life.
“We weren’t pretending that we are the arbiters of everything, the ‘professional businessmen’ with the answer to every question,” Kleiman said. “We’re learning at the same time as the consumer and fan. In the last few years, you’ve seen a shift in the amount of access. There’s a different level of expectation from celebrities, leaders and role models. Authenticity, vulnerability and honesty are the most important.”
Durant has arguably been too honest on occasion; his willingness to engage with fans and media members on Twitter has landed him in hot water. Internet sleuths revealed in 2017 that Durant was using a “burner account” so he could debate anonymously. In January, he sniped at ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins, his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate.
“All these social media ‘hiccups’ are just him being who he is, his truest self,” Kleiman argued. “The more he’s done that, and not been afraid to be that way, the more people have embraced him. I don’t really get caught up in it. We talk and laugh about all these things, but never have I been worried [about the repercussions]. The more honest and real he is, the bigger our business grows because people respect that.”
Make no mistake: Durant and Kleiman have big business dreams. They continue to invest heavily in Silicon Valley, and they are partnering with Showtime to produce a documentary about basketball in Prince George’s County called “In The Water.” They harbor one major long-term goal: for Durant to follow in Michael Jordan’s footsteps when he retires.
“We both would love to own and operate a team one day,” Kleiman said. “The biggest goal for us is to build up the company and to be respected as moguls in the space we’re in. There’s no exit. There’s no rush to get somewhere or to be acquired. You find something you love doing — we share a love of sports and storytelling — and you try to create something that’s everlasting.”
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