NBA superstar Kevin Durant is no longer wearing No. 35 on the court, but he is keeping the number alive off the court through his “Thirty Five Ventures” company, which bounces across sports, tech, media and philanthropy.
The two-time NBA champion with the Golden State Warriors was in Detroit at the Forbes Under 30 Summit Tuesday along with manager, agent, business partner, and co-founder of Thirty Five Ventures, Rich Kleiman, to share their insights, lessons-learned, and first-hand experiences on and off the court, with other entrepreneurs and innovators.
The Forbes Under 30 Summit will bring thousands of young business professionals and entrepreneurs to Detroit’s historic Masonic Temple this week to hear more than 200 leading entertainment, sports, and business figures discuss how they hustled their way to the top.
“Our Under 30 Summit is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the next-generation of leaders to connect with visionaries like Kevin and Rich, who have established track records in starting companies, investing in emerging brands, and in disrupting existing markets,” said Randall Lane, Chief Content Officer of Forbes.
Kleiman met Durant during his rookie season with the Seattle Supersonics in 2007-2008. He was managing rapper Wale, who is from the same area as Durant, for Roc Nation. Wale invited Kleiman to attend a Jay-Z concert with him, the same concert Durant was attending. The two kept in touch and when Durant signed with Roc Nation Sports in 2013, where Kleiman served as vice president, Kleiman sought Jay’s approval to drop his Roc Nation client list and solely focus on Durant. Two have been a Kobe and Shaq-like duo ever since.
“We work flawlessly together,” Kleiman said. “In order for Kevin to do what he does on the court and to give himself to the game, there has to be a certain trust factor and understanding that I can help put his vision to task and that I can stay authentic in doing it. In order to do that, there has to be some respect and trust that takes time to develop.”
Becoming a co-founder or business partners is a lot like a marriage: if you find the right fit, it can be total bliss. But a bad match can result in a lot of heartache. With Durant playing an 82-game NBA season, traveling frequently from October-June, time is limited and valuable. But like any great relationship, the two make it work.
“Rich and I talk about everything, from basketball to our business,” said Durant, who came out to MVP chants from the Detroit crowd. “We talk 3-4 times a day, updating each other on what’s going on and throughout those conversations, we are bouncing ideas off of each other.”
Over the summer, Durant inked a four-year, $164 million deal with the Brooklyn Nets during free agency. He and Kleiman also moved there business to the east coast, moving Thirty Five Ventures’ 15 employees to a brand new 4,500 square foot office space in New York City, complete with private lobby and roof deck, and elevator.
Current projects for Thirty Five Ventures include “The Boardroom,” a multi-platform sports business/culture-focused vertical distributed by ESPN; the basketball-themed series “Swagger” starring Winston Duke through a venture with Imagine Entertainment and Apple; an equity partnership with audio company Master & Dynamic for Durant’s Studio 35 headphones; and the Durant Center, an educational and leadership facility in Durant’s hometown in Prince George’s County, Maryland along with a documentary. It has also invested in over 50 businesses since launching, including Acorns, Coinbase, Overtime and Postmates.
“We have put everything under one umbrella and we are trying to build a business that can sustain,” said Kleiman, who personally runs the everyday dealings of Thirty Five Ventures. “We don’t have an exit strategy or feel this is some overnight lotto ticket we are sitting on. We are building assets that are authentic to us and reflect the kind of person and player Kevin has shown to the world over the last 15 years. The sky is the limit for us.”
Durant said he was inspired by NBA legend Michael Jordan’s business ventures off the court with the Jordan Brand. He wanted to broaden his business horizons, but knew that was not possible in Oklahoma City. It was not until he got with the Warriors in Silicon Valley that he tapped into his true business potential.
“It was a different crowd when I went to San Francisco,” said Durant. “There, I was able to be around the tech crowd and younger generation of entrepreneurs. It was exactly where I needed to be.
“You had some many Warriors fans that come to the game and you have no idea what they do for a living until you sit down and talk to them. And they want to help, passing off the knowledge that have. There is so much innovation and inspiration out there.”
Durant, 31, is out indefinitely with an Achilles injury, but has kept his eyes on the young NBA season, including his Nets, the new-look L.A. Clippers and the spark Derrick Rose has given the Detroit Pistons.
“I don’t know about the Pistons,” Durant laughed. “I love the Pistons and D-Rose is looking like an All-Star. But we will see. It’s a long year.”