Rich Kleiman on Working With Kevin Durant, Building a Media Company, Moving to Brooklyn, and More

Variety Sports & Entertainment Breakfast, Los Angeles, USA - 19 Jul 2018 Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman 19 Jul 2018
Variety/Shutterstock

When Kevin Durant announced last summer that he was leaving the Golden State Warriors for the Brooklyn Nets after winning two NBA championships, it sent major ripples across the basketball world. The Warriors went from being the best team in the NBA to one of the worst, while Durant teamed up with Kyrie Irving to build a potential playoff contender in Brooklyn.

And all through that journey, Durant had a trusted friend and business partner beside him every step of the way, helping to guide him through the process and plot out his future—on and off the basketball court: Rich Kleiman. As Durant’s manager, Kleiman has been a key partner for Durant in navigating his basketball career, but he also has been a true co-partner in building Durant’s business interests and creative development off the court with his Thirty Five Ventures media company and the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation.

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The road that led Kleiman and Durant to team up started at Roc Nation, where Kleiman started in 2008 as a music manager working with stars like Mark Ronson, Solange, Wale, and many more. In 2013, Kleiman helped launch Roc Nation Sports with Jay-Z and served as Vice President of the agency. That’s where Kleiman and Durant linked up, and now the two have started to build a business and media empire together, all while Durant continues his basketball career in the NBA.

“Kevin and I first met in 2009 through our mutual friend Wale,” Kleiman tells Men’s Journal. “We kept in touch throughout the years until we had the opportunity to formally work together starting in 2013. It was then we both realized we shared similar interests in the business world, and our Thirty Five Ventures partnership developed from there.”

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Kleiman oversees and works with Durant on a wide range of business and media interests, including building Thirty Five Ventures and an investment portfolio that includes the sports network Overtime, the online digital-currency platform Coinbase, as well as the fast-casual pizza chain Pieology, bike-sharing company LimeBike, the delivery company Postmates, and more. One of the biggest parts of what Kleiman and Durant are doing with Thirty Five Ventures is working in the media space, where it is developing projects and has partnerships with ESPN, Imagine Entertainment, and Apple. So far, one of the most important projects has been The Boardroom, the ESPN+ series that explores and examines the world of the sports business and everything that’s involved in it.

“What we’re most proud of with The Boardroom is how quickly we’ve been able to grow it as a network,” Kleiman says. “In addition to two seasons on ESPN+, we’ve established a flagship interview series native to our social channels, a weekly e-newsletter, and a forthcoming podcast. Fans can look forward to a lot of new content as we continue to develop the platform over the next year.”

(You can watch episodes of The Boardroom on ESPN+ here, and check out more from the series on social media on Twitter and Instagram.)

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While Durant has yet to take the court yet for the Nets while coming back from his Achilles tendon injury, both Kleiman and Durant are excited about what’s to come: “I’m sure most fans have seen videos of his training at this point, which is the best illustration of how far he’s come,” Kleiman said. “All I’ll say is that he’s feeling great and that he’s worked incredibly hard. We’re all looking forward to seeing him get back on the court when he’s ready.”

Variety Sports & Entertainment Breakfast, Los Angeles, USA - 19 Jul 2018 Rich Kleiman and Kevin Durant 19 Jul 2018 Image ID: 9765235y Featured in: Variety Sports & Entertainment Breakfast, Los Angeles, USA - 19 Jul 2018 Photo Credit: Variety/Shutterstock
Rich Kleiman and Kevin Durant at the Variety Sports & Entertainment Breakfast in Los Angeles in 2018. Variety/Shutterstock

Men’s Journal caught up with Kleiman about his relationship with Durant, building up their business and media empire, growing up in New York, and more.

What’s it been like for you the first year relocating things to New York City for Kevin’s basketball career? What things have changed or stayed consistent with the move to Brooklyn?

The biggest change this year has really just been having Kevin off the court and helping him focus on his recovery process. In that regard, it’s been great having him in New York so that he has support from myself and the rest of our team whenever he needs it. From a business perspective, we’ve always been in lockstep, so the general day-to-day hasn’t changed that much.

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With Kevin’s injury, he obviously didn’t get to start off his Nets tenure on the court, but how has he enjoyed being around the team and the city so far?

He’s really loving the energy of the city and being around his teammates. The Nets organization has been incredibly welcoming and there’s a real sense of collaboration from the top down that is helping him be a true part of the team even though he’s not able to play.

What are your overall goals in building Thirty Five Ventures, your marketing work, putting together new media, films, content, and the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation, and what do you hope it becomes in the future?

Our goal is always to keep growing the things that matter to us, whether it be building a platform like The Boardroom or ensuring the continued success of our college prep programs at The Durant Center in Maryland. We are constantly evaluating new opportunities and testing new ideas, and across the board, the focus for us is always on quality even as we scale.

Are there any spotlight episodes of The Boardroom you’d like to mention for people to check out who maybe haven’t seen them all?

In terms of favorites, some stand-outs include the Wide Receivers and Fashion episodes on ESPN+. A personal highlight for me was getting to sit down with David Falk, who represented Michael Jordan throughout his career, for a two-part piece we released last month on our digital channels.

ESPN / The Boardroom
ESPN / The Boardroom

As someone who grew up here and knows the city so well, what does it mean to you to have yourself and Kevin putting some roots down here and building up? And what does it mean to you to see Kevin be in Brooklyn and build something new there as well?

I’ve always been based in New York, and as the company has grown it’s been natural for most of our employees to be based here as well. That would remain true no matter where Kevin chose to play basketball, but it’s exciting to me to see him get an opportunity to play with a team like the Nets and build something new with them. As a basketball fan, I think the competitive atmosphere is great for the city in general.

As someone who has a history in the music industry as well, what is it like for you to see the intersection of music, sports—especially basketball—and the culture overall? Are there areas in that space where you and Kevin are working on things?

One of the best things about sports in the current era is that it helps drive the culture, and that’s something that we’re really focused on with most of the projects that we do. The place you can most easily see the intersection of sports, music, and culture is our Boardroom platform – we just did a “Rap or Go to the League” episode featuring 2 Chainz and Rapsody, and we want to continue covering which artists are getting sneaker deals, which athletes are in the studio, and how the lines have completely blurred in terms of what’s possible.

Another area where those worlds have collided for us is in our equity partnership with audio brand Master & Dynamic. They’re doing some incredible things in the headphone space and we’re looking forward to growing their brand and doing some very cool collaborations in the near future.

Can you tell us about some of the things coming up next for you and Kevin? Anything you’re really excited about?

Aside from what I’ve already mentioned with The Boardroom and Master & Dynamic, there are two documentaries we have coming out that we’re really excited about. A Kid From Coney Island, which we did in partnership with SLAM Media, tells the story of Stephon Marbury in a way that’s never been done before. That will be in select theaters on March 10th. We have another documentary coming out later this spring with Showtime called In the Water, which is focused on the crazy amount of basketball talent that’s come out of PG County, Maryland. That story is obviously one that’s very personal to Kevin and we’re really proud of it. Later this year, we’ll release our first scripted series, SWAGGER, with Imagine Entertainment and Apple – that show looks at the world of youth basketball in a whole new way, with an incredibly talented cast. We’re really looking forward to it.

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