NEW YORK — In the millennial age, Kevin Durant is a player who has benefited greatly because of his age and talent. Humbled and understanding of today’s culture, Durant has a way of connecting with the younger demographic more than most of his NBA counterparts. Just check out his huge following on social media with 11.8 million followers on Twitter and 5.4 million on Instagram (for comparison, Kobe Bryant has 7.5M/4.1M. LeBron James leads the NBA with 24M/13.4M). After joining Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports in 2013, Durant’s business approach has been very strategic with lucrative outcomes. Last summer, he re-signed with Nike at an estimated $285 million after spurning Under Armour.
The Oklahoma City Thunder superstar arrived in New York City for an event on Sept. 25 to launch his next business venture: a signature underwear line in partnership with Neff and Foot Locker. Neff, a company based out of Camarillo, Calif., founded by Shaun Neff, brands itself upon snowboarding, skating, surfing and lifestyle products. Durant joined Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman as the only athletes on Neff’s endorsements roster.
His Neff venture is the latest in a busy off-season that didn’t only include recovering from foot surgery. Durant spent a good portion of his summer taking business trips to take his brand to new heights. He is coming off a Nike basketball marketing tour in Madrid, Paris and Berlin. He, along with Nike, also released the KD 8 and through his Kevin Durant Charity Foundation announced the “Build it and They Will Ball” courts renovation initiative to increase the number of high quality basketball courts accessible to unprivileged youth around the world.
So why is a NBA superstar joining a lifestyle company? Neff falls in line with Durant’s other non-traditional brands. Besides Nike, he has become the face of companies like Orange Leaf Yogurt, Sparking ICE and fast-food restaurant chain Sonic, in which he became the brand's first celebrity endorser. I had the opportunity to talk to Durant about his latest business ventures, becoming deputy publisher of The Players’ Tribune and his business role models.
SI.com: So what made you want to start an underwear line?
Kevin Durant: I just felt like everything else has been tapped into too and this was a new adventure and something I just wanted to do. Now in days when I want to do something and it is in my grasp, I just be like, “Let’s just go get it.”
SI.com: We hear these stories about athletes being a part of something, but not actually putting in the work in. How much input did you have in the creative process with Neff on this line?
KD: I had a lot of input. Shaun [Neff] didn’t put a limit on me and it was great working with them. He was somebody that started a brand and definitely was more experienced than me but never treated me as I was lower than him or less intelligent, so that was pretty cool. He was easy to work with and it was just fun, man. Because we can all relate to this space as men and I felt that it was something different to do and we both were jumping to it at the same time. So it was fun.
SI.com: What was some of your favorite designs in the line?
KD: There is so many, man. This one right here is pretty cool [points to the “Sunset” underwear that consists of palm trees and a sunset background]. It reminds me of the beach. I went to Maui last year and it was one of the best times of my life, and that reminds me a lot of that.
SI.com: What do you look for in a business relationship with a brand?
KD: A brand that is authentic, has great values, knows what they believe in and [has] great people. That is simple enough for me and we can work from there.
SI.com: You work with a lot of non-traditional brands that do not feature many athlete endorsers so what intrigues you about that?
KD: I just feel like I can go in and help kickstart a new brand or a brand that not a lot of people know about. I feel like I can help with my presence and the brand that I have as a basketball player. So many people in the social media days watch the game of basketball and I feel like I can touch a lot of different people and bridge that gap. It’s cool to know that you helped and it is pretty cool that you can pick up a phone and start a conversation with a lot of different brands.
SI.com: Do you have any roles models in the business world?
KD: I have a lot of role models. LeBron James is a guy that set the blueprint for guys like myself and I really appreciate that. Jay-Z of course is another person. He is somebody that started his own brand from the ground up and look how big it is now. Shaun started selling T-shirts out of his trunk and it has inspired me a lot as well and how quickly he was like “Let’s just do this,” and in a couple months you’ve seen a huge layout. So guys like that are really inspiring because they think about things and really put into action. A lot of people have thoughts that just sit there but these guys have really made it work.
SI.com: What is some of the best business advice you have received?
KD: I have received a lot of different advice and used some but more so I am one of those guys that like to experience things. What I learned is to be true to who you are. For me it has never been about money, it has always been about people and how I can touch them and how we can partner up and touch people in different ways in different categories and that’s the coolest part.
SI.com: Speaking of partnering up, you just announced on your Instagram page that you will be partnering with Derek Jeter and The Players’ Tribune as deputy publisher. What are looking to get out of in this venture?
KD: Just giving athletes a different voice and trying to connect them more with fans in a different level more so than the way they look at us now. Hopefully it helps.
SI.com: What’s next for the KD brand? What other business ventures are you trying to get into?
KD: Ummm, who knows? I am just one of those random guys that will think of something. That is the fun part that you can be able to work with such great guys like Shaun who can connect you in so many different areas and teach you a lot about business and being a go-getter.
SI.com: You just came back from your #AllForTheGame Europe tour with Nike. How was that experience and is there anything that really stood out on your trip?
KD: It was fun just traveling to other countries and having the opportunity to meet different people and different cultures. It was cool and I had a lot of fun. Nike did such a great job with that trip.
SI.com: With your foundation (Kevin Durant Foundation) you announced a plan to build basketball courts around the world for underprivileged youth. How did that idea come about?
KD: Played outdoors since I was 7 years-old and I wanted kids to simply have the same feeling I had when I played outdoors. It was perfect.
SI.com: What did you think about Drake and Future’s tape “What a time to be Alive?” Any standouts?
KD: It was legendary, it was crazy, and it is something I am going to be playing for the rest of the year. As far as standout have to say “Digital Dash” and Drake’s “30 for 30” freestyle. That was just the end of you know ... he kind of squashed everything with that one.