You may not know Rich Kleiman by name, but his influence and power in the basketball world are unquestioned.
He’s a sports agent and businessman. His top client, NBA superstar Kevin Durant.
Along with KD, he’s the co-founder of Thirty Five Ventures, a company he founded with the two-time NBA Finals MVP. Kleiman oversees the company’s diverse investment portfolio (such as Overtime.com); the emerging media and creative development arm (ex: The Boardroom on ESPN+); and the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation.
Kleiman was in New York City last month as he was in attendance for the Museum of the City of New York's annual gala, inspired by the museum’s current exhibition, “City/Game: Basketball in New York”.
NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was among those honored at the gala with the first annual Gotham Icon Award.
Kleiman has a special connection to New York City. He grew up in the city, which is where he developed a love for basketball. Ironically enough, he was a Knicks fan growing up.
“It’s special,” Kleiman said. “New York City and basketball are the two things that define me the most and have given me the opportunity to do what I’m doing professionally. It’s long overdue and it’s cool to see all these things displayed in one room and its memories throughout my childhood. It’s pretty exciting.”
“For me, basketball was an escape growing up. Being able to lock in on a Knicks game for three hours. Going to the Garden or a Summer League game. I did everything. There were charity games. Mark Jackson’s wheelchair game. New York whether they’re the best or not its where basketball feels the most natural and most authentic so for me this is incredible.”
Fans and media know the Durant they see on television. Hitting 30-foot daggers to eliminate LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers from the NBA Finals in back-to-back seasons. Highlight reel dunks. 50 point scoring outbursts.
Off the court, it seems like everyone has an opinion on KD. Durant certainly hasn't been afraid to speak his mind in response.
The time he said Skip Bayless “doesn’t know anything about basketball. Or when Stephen A Smith famously said “you don’t want to make an enemy out of me” when Durant told reporters no one in his family talks to Smith. The two have since made up with Smith appearing on Durant's The Boardroom and KD appearing as a guest on First Take in studio last year.
His most recent feud was with Brandon Tierney, the co-host of Tiki and Tierney on CBS Sports Radio and CBS Sports Network, who argued Durant should've signed with the Knicks over the Nets.
Then, there’s the Durant that Kleiman knows. Outside of the public eye. His business partner and friend. Turns out there’s not too much of a difference.
“Kevin is as much of an open book as anybody. You see it. He’s someone who loves what he does, loyal, smart, he’s probably one of the best basketball players to ever play. Kevin is not afraid to let people know who he is and show people. You know.”
Kleiman raves about Durant. He's the one who gave him the chance to really accomplish his dreams as an agent.
“Our relationship is a funny one. For me personally and anybody you need somebody who believes in you... for me professionally, Kevin gave me the belief no one else had given me and gave me the power to operate in the way I like to do things and believed in it. I’ll do anything for that dude…. He’s honest and that’s a breath of fresh air in this world. You might not like what he says but he’s gonna tell you the truth.”
The Knicks made headlines recently with the hiring of their new president of basketball operations, Leon Rose. A fellow agent just like Kleiman.
Rose has solidified himself as one of the top basketball agents in basketball for decades, with clients including Joel Embiid, Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns, Carmelo Anthony and Kyle Kuzma. His previous clients included LeBron James and Allen Iverson.
“I love it," Kleiman said when describing the Rose hire. (This interview was conducted before Rose officially took over as Knicks president on March 1.)
"People get caught up in that you need to have experience for the exact job you’re being hired for. He’s successful. Good people that bring good energy into a place that knows what they’re doing, are educated and that people want to work for and root for, they're gonna win."
The Knicks are 17-42 on the season and have made the postseason just three times in the last 15 years.
"I’ll root for Leon. That’s awesome. I’m off people just trying to knock the Knicks … the Knicks will be fine.”
Back on February 21, 2018, Kleiman had some fun on social media. Naturally, people took it and ran with it.
“Imma run the Knicks one day,” is what the tweet read.
“That tweet was the youthful side. I wasn’t thinking twice. I would’ve written that when I was eight or whatever… I just know that it’s not rocket science. Jim Dolan is not this one-of-one that can keep the Knicks from being successful. The Knicks will be fine. Leon (Rose) is gonna do a great job. It’s one of those things, highlighting of the Knicks being bad because they’re in New York, because it continues to spiral. It’s way bigger than you imagine it to be."
They’re in the 2nd round of the playoffs eight, nine years ago. It hasn’t been ideal but maybe its time now. They’ve got cap space, picks, Leon if that works out. You look at Jeff Van Gundy, Lawrence Frank, you never realize when a great coach is coming. Maybe Mike Miller is that guy. I wouldn’t be so quick to assume he’s gone. Maybe the Knicks have stumbled on something really special.”
Durant’s free agency decision to pass on staying in Golden State or join the Knicks and the bright lights of Madison square garden is one of the most scrutinized in NBA history.
KD has done multiple interviews and had to defend his decision.
“I think its time people chill out. It’s not even fun to talk about the Knicks anymore. Let’s talk about the Nets and I’m not just saying this because Kevin is there. As New Yorkers, nobody made decisions to go to the Nets because of the Knicks. They went to the Nets because of the team the Nets build… I think its gonna be an exciting time in New York and we should enjoy that…
The Nets should be fun to watch next season when both Durant and Irving return from their injuries. Some may even go as far as to call them the epicenter of the basketball universe in 2020-21. Must-see television.
Durant is a two-time NBA champion and finals MVP. Irving is a champion himself and hit one of the most clutch shots in NBA history, the game-winning three in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals to end the Golden State Warriors run at the best season ever.
“Basketball will be incredible in Brooklyn. Sometimes I look at the calendar and I’m trying to speed through the weeks so I don’t miss a single minute of what it’s going to be like when those guys are on the basketball court together. And it’s not just the two of them. The foundation they built the team they built.
“I really want to make sure its clear like people need to spend more time harping on the organization and culture the Nets built. Players dancing on the side, seeing how hard Kenny (Atkinson) works and (general manager) Sean Marks doing this incredible job. It’s always been about what the Knicks didn’t do right. Leave the Knicks alone. Focus on what the Nets did. It will be good and hopefully, Leon does his job. I think Leon is the guy.”
Kleiman and Durant produced a Stephon Marbury documentary called 'A Kid From Coney Island', where Marbury recounts how he went from making $20 million a year to nothing.
He’s a two-time NBA All-Star and three-time champion in the Chinese Basketball Association.
It was a no-brainer the second I heard it. There are people in your life that are important. Growing up in New York City, he’s important. He represents things and times. I remember seeing Golden Hoops at Columbia with Felipe Lopez, Shamgod, Stephon, that was it. That was everything.
“You don’t realize what happened to Steph and what he did for himself in China. He should be a god here and should be in the Hall of Fame. I’m just excited to be able to celebrate his story.
More information on the Museum of the City of New York and their Winter [Basket]ball event can be found here: