Sports

Kevin Durant media feud: What’s behind criticism, appearances

After Kevin Durant criticized the media in a postgame press conference, he made appearances on several news outlets. But this was no apology tour.

Five days after Kevin Durant lambasted the media—Why do I got to talk to you? Tell me, he said during a testy postgame press conference Wednesday—KD was everywhere on Monday morning. He talked with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America. He appeared on Get Up! His face claimed the top two spots on ESPN.com. But this was no apology tour.

Durant’s criticism wasn’t even mentioned on GMA. Instead, he discussed his dance moves, his unnassailable civic work back in Maryland, his mom, and the upcoming All-Star Game. In between, Roberts showed a clip of Durant’s new show, The Boardroom, available now on ESPN+. “I feel like a lot of athletes are doing great things off the playing field and I think it should be recognized,” Durant told her.

Durant hadn’t spoken to the media for nine days as rumors around him and the Knicks heated up before last Wednesday. That night, Durant was clear about how much he wanted to speak with local reporters. “I just want to play ball,” he told them. “I just want to go to the gym and go home.”

On Get Up!, Mike Greenberg asked directly about Durant’s comments. “I was just letting them know what I want to talk about,” Durant responded. “It was good to get that off my chest.”

And online, Durant participated in a lengthy profile written by Ramona Shelburne. “At 30 years old, he has a lot more basketball to play, and huge decisions about where he’ll spend the rest of his career still to make,” she wrote. “For now, he’s focused on building a legacy on and off the court.”

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That, clearly, is what Durant wants to talk about. The headline of the story is “Kevin Durant: The Making of a Mogul.” One of the first steps, it turns out, is playing the media game—telling reporters to get off your case while using their outlets to get your story across. “Controlling your own content is not a choice,” Durant’s business partner, Rich Kleiman, said last week. “Someone else will tell these stories if we don’t.”

A poster child for The Players’ Tribune generation, Durant is only going to continue doing his best to manage the message. His team has accepted that basketball won’t remain the focus of conversation in this 24/7, social media environment—especially when the Warriors have eliminated any debate about the best team playing right now. Given that, he’d at least like to pick which off-court storyline gets attention.

On The Boardroom, Durant lectures and learns from others. Often the lesson boils down to: Athletes can use their star power to get a foot in the door, to meet powerful people, and ultimately to make deals. ESPN, it seems, is the latest business willing to talk.

Earlier this month, Disney CEO Bob Iger lauded the growth of ESPN+, which recently hit two million subscribers. Before launching Durant’s show, the platform launched a separate series with executive producer LeBron James. In both cases, the company has used their partners’ fame to add subscribers and viewers, offering in return creative input and exposure, including on ESPN itself. Explaining ESPN+’s growth, Iger said, “We saw it in real time, that ESPN’s primary platforms are fantastic marketing tools for the direct-to-consumer service.”

Of course, ESPN is still profiting off the rumor mill, too. In between Durant’s Get Up! appearance and a SportsCenter mini-doc on his contributions in Prince George’s County, First Take squeezed six minutes out of the latest “NYKD” fodder.

But Durant can look past that. It’s just business, after all.

ViaSportsillustrated