Kevin Durant has been virtually invisible and nearly silent since he issued his trade request to the Brooklyn Nets on June 30, popping up briefly on social media in shooting clips and Twitter sparring matches. His recent debut on TikTok lasted just seven seconds and consisted of him staring into his phone’s camera as he asked how to work the app.
But the 12-time all-star ventured onto the red carpet in Manhattan on Tuesday to promote his new Showtime film, “NYC Point Gods.” After the rare summer public appearance, Durant sent a text message to Cam’ron to thank him for his contributions to the documentary, which traces the history of New York point guards from Tiny Archibald and Pearl Washington to Mark Jackson, Kenny Smith and Stephon Marbury.
“You stole the show,” Durant wrote to the Harlem rapper. “You turned the theater up.”
Compartmentalization is key for modern superstars, whose off-court interests can occasionally overlap with their day jobs in unexpected ways. While Durant, the player, has asked out of Brooklyn after a complicated three-year run, Durant, the executive producer, delighted in celebrating New York’s rich basketball history with a film that focuses more on stylistic influence and cultural impact than on NBA accomplishments.
“[Durant is] where he’s at every summer,” said Rich Kleiman, his longtime business partner with Thirty Five Ventures and an executive producer on the film. “He has an insane work ethic. He’s in the gym every single day. He relies on his routine and the work he puts into the game. He’s 15 years in the NBA. We’re 10 years working together. Every time you think something is the end of the world or you think you’ve got to go hide out in a hut and disappear from the world, you realize it’s just life. He’s focused on that, and all the other stuff will figure itself out.”
“NYC Point Gods,” which releases Friday, is a natural successor to Durant’s first Showtime film, “Basketball County: In the Water,” an homage to his childhood in Prince George’s County. Kleiman, a New York native who grew up watching Jackson’s Knicks, conceived the nostalgic 83-minute journey through the five boroughs, which is directed by Sam Eliad and includes interviews with Jackson, Smith and Marbury; NCAA coaches Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino; and rappers such as Fat Joe and Cam’ron, who do indeed provide some of the film’s most memorable scenes.
In one, Fat Joe describes fending off a street ball bidding war for Bronx point guard Kareem Reid, who played college basketball at Arkansas. Jay-Z offered Reid a bag filled with untold thousands of dollars to join his team, but Fat Joe successfully countered by offering “a lifetime of friendship.”
“I’ve got good money,” Fat Joe laughed. “I don’t have Jay-Z’s money.”
In another, Cam’ron recounts how God Shammgod, a 6-foot point guard who starred at Providence, tried to improve his vertical leap by wearing specialty shoes that lifted his heels off the ground and forced him to walk around on his toes. A film staffer then pulls out a pair of the shoes during his interview, prompting a wide-eyed Cam’ron to marvel at the 1990s artifact.
“The first time I saw that scene, I had tears streaming down my face,” Showtime executive Stephen Espinoza said. “I remember seeing the shoes advertised in the back of a basketball magazine. I had a pair. I’m sure there would be a wide cross-section of people who would admit that they owned a pair, with some embarrassment.”
These interplays between basketball and hip-hop reflect Kleiman’s professional roots as a music manager and executive, and they reinforce the film’s main argument: New York City point guards set trends that have since gone global. With stops in LeFrak City, Coney Island and Rucker Park, “NYC Point Gods” catalogues the unforgiving environments that birthed a generation of players known for intricate ballhandling, natural scoring instincts and showmanship.
“The challenge was trying to separate yourself in a city with so many people doing the same thing that you’re doing,” said Smith, a 10-year NBA veteran who is now a TNT commentator. “If I lived in Idaho, I don’t really have to work as hard to be noticed.”
Shammgod gives the inside story of his namesake crossover dribble before a montage rolls with Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook deploying the move in NBA games. Rafer Alston’s “Skip to my Lou” persona gets a deep dive as fans are shown hanging off chain-link fences to watch him play in street-ball games. And Kenny Anderson revisits a 1991 showdown between Georgia Tech and Duke, when he famously scored in transition after freezing Bobby Hurley with three crossovers in quick succession.
This signature flash is front and center throughout. Marbury notes that an ABC “20/20” feature called him a “young Mozart” when he was a teenager and distills what made him so captivating then and now: “A New York City point guard will give up his girl and his chain before he give up his dribble.”
Left mostly unsaid by the film: Anderson, Marbury and others didn’t quite make the transition from playground legends to NBA legends. “NYC Point Gods” acknowledges that city point guards often get labeled as poor shooters, and it hints that strong-willed personalities can be a blessing and a curse.
In footage from the 1988 NBA draft, Jackson, who has just been named rookie of the year, watches warily as Rod Strickland, another NYC product, is selected in the first round by the New York Knicks. Their pairing lasted less than two seasons before Strickland was traded.
Meanwhile, the current generation, which includes Kemba Walker and Cole Anthony, isn’t as glittery as previous iterations. In the NBA, pass-first floor generals such as Jackson have given way to do-it-all point forwards, and the three-point era has made it much harder for non-shooters to survive. Even so, Smith pushed back on the notion that the mythical New York City point guard is fading.
“I don’t know if it’s dead,” Smith said. “Modern basketball is based off some of the things that were emphasized in New York City playgrounds. If you look at Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, the ability to handle the basketball, that was a distinct style when you were growing up. That style is the style of today.”
This lasting influence has become fertile ground for filmmakers. Marbury was the subject of a 2019 film “A Kid from Coney Island,” and Netflix recently announced plans for a new documentary about “AND1,” a brash clothing and sneaker brand that rose to prominence in the early 2000s and later launched a worldwide basketball tour.
“NYC Point Gods” is a wide-ranging overview, but it includes so many players and local touchstones, such as the Gauchos youth basketball program and Archbishop Molloy High, that it must cruise through them quickly. As with “Basketball County,” Durant seems intent on highlighting less-heralded players whom he appreciates and places that shaped him. Kleiman said Thirty Five Ventures is interested in pursuing a project about Seattle’s hoops culture, which has produced Jamal Crawford, Brandon Roy and Nate Robinson.
There’s a purity to that mission that can be easy to miss in the blinding focus on Durant’s standoff with the Nets.
“[Durant’s] relationship with New York City dates back to when he was a kid,” Kleiman said. “Everyone loves playing at the [Madison Square] Garden, now playing at Barclays [Center]. One of his most memorable games was at the Rucker. Being a professional, you are able to separate certain things. I don’t think there’s any negativity in Kevin’s mind right now at all. He was excited to be [at the premiere], and he loves New York.”