Professional athletes are making savvy moves to help ensure that they are building a bright future for themselves.
One great example is NBA superstar Kevin Durant, who stars in a new video series called Fly By that launches today in partnership with LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s Uninterrupted platform, home of “The Shop,” a barbershop-themed show featuring James and other luminaries, and the media arm of Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures and Alaska Airlines.
The original three-part series is an intimate, personal tour of some of the cities that NBA players call home. In the first episode, Durant and fellow Golden State Warriors teammate Quinn Cook explore their home city of San Francisco, visiting Mister Jiu’s restaurant and the legendary Hyde Street Studios in the Tenderloin.
While this is only partially a travelogue, what’s most interesting in the beautifully shot and edited film is that we are treated to Durant’s philosophies, appreciation and empathy of not only the people he encounters but the city in general. Noting the gravity of being in the Hyde Street Studios neighborhood, he said that watching a Janis Joplin documentary revealed a great deal of “culture and history” and that it made him “feel proud to be part of this community.”
The short is highly-engaging and connects well to the Seattle-based airline, which is making a stronger push into the San Francisco market after the merger between Alaska Airlines and Virgin America. It also extends the relationship between Durant and the airline, which began last year with “Flight 35,” a program that flew 46 athletes from Los Angeles and Oakland to the Las Vegas Classic Bigfoot Hoops in a plane adorned with images of the league and NBA Finals MVP.
“When we signed our deal with Kevin Durant, we were feeling great about it because both parties didn’t want a typical endorsement deal,” said Natalie Bowman, Alaska Airlines’ managing director of marketing and advertising. “We knew going into this deal that we were going to look for unique ways to work together.”
More than an athlete and natural-born storyteller
Durant, like James, is at the height of his career and is making the most of his opportunities. His Thirty Five Ventures platform is a compelling mix of investments, media and his foundation. Durant, along with his partner and co-founder Rich Kleiman, has stakes in prominent technology companies like Postmates, Lime, Coinbase and Propel, software created for low-income Americans that are often overlooked by traditional tech innovation.
“We’ve also admired what [Rich, LeBron and Kevin] have built,” noted Carter. “They decided to take on the world and their business in a way where they are interested in building something special.”
But its Durant’s natural curiosity combined with the power of Uninterrupted’s outstanding ability to tell stories that shows his varied interests.
“In talking to Kevin and Rich, we learned that Kevin’s insight was the fact that, though he plays in the Bay Area and is on the road most of the time, he didn’t get enough time to learn about these cities,” said Carter. “This was a way to show and tell a story about an athlete who is more than just an athlete, who is interested in the world and curious, with Kevin at the center.”
This isn’t the first time that Durant and James have collaborated on projects together. James, along with journalist Cari Champion took part in a show on Uninterrupted sponsored by Uber. And James has guest starred on Durant’s lauded ESPN series The Boardroom.
“I knew that I wanted to work Maverick and find ways to work together. It’s clear that we’ve wanted to do more together,” said Kleiman. The Fly By series will continue with episodes focused on Los Angeles with Lakers star Kyle Kuzma and Brooklyn featuring Nets guard D’Angelo Russell.
Laying a foundation for future stars
Both Carter and Kleiman acknowledge that James and Durant, though at an elite level, are providing a blueprint for other athletes to emulate.
“This entire generation grew up listening to entrepreneurs and music and learning about tech and owning their own businesses,” noted Kleiman. “This is a way for them to control their own stories and futures. Uninterrupted is at the highest level, but even if an athlete is producing something for their own channel, they’re entering the world of business quickly. They don’t have to wait to get a deal or a signature shoe.”
Of course, social media is a vital accelerant, yet athletes continue to build savvier approaches around their presence and how they present themselves to fans and the broader culture. Though a path has been set, Kleiman notes that each athlete should approach their own futures authentically.
“We didn’t want to build a media business,” he said. “We wanted to keep investing in tech and love the idea of being able to partner with companies that may not be in the lane of what you would expect. Kevin’s interests are wide-ranging, and all of these people at the top of their games can do things differently.”
Another crucial consideration is longevity, not necessarily in a sport, but the long game of an athlete and their partnerships. While endorsement deals can be fleeting, long-term relationships like the one with Durant and Alaska Airlines prove to be more fulfilling.
“They’re one of our few pillar brand [partnerships],” said Kleiman. “These are the brands that we hope will commit to working with Kevin throughout the lifecycle of his business and philanthropy.”
As for the current project, Bowman would love to see the series continue and values the combined weight of Durant and Uninterrupted.
“The Uninterrupted and Fly By work is gorgeous,” she said. “They are such great storytellers and connected to culture, so this felt like an epic partnership. For the Alaska Airlines brand, the Bay Area is a critical market and anything we can do to be more associated with Kevin and all the good work he does in the community will help us grow.”
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