A champagne-soaked Kevin Durant, hours removed from his second championship and second straight Finals MVP, took a moment mid-celebration to peek into his future.
“This game, your craft, you have to continue studying it,” he said Friday to ESPN’s Chris Haynes. “No matter how much you enjoy it, nobody wants to be in school that long. I know I don’t. At some point, you have to be ready to graduate. Thirty-five, that’s just a number in my mind.”
He walked back his comments during Tuesday’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, but a five-year, self-imposed limit begs this question:
What would Kevin Durant have to accomplish within the next five years that would compel him to retire at 35?
In discussing his career’s possible conclusion, it’s worth considering the path he has taken to get here.
He went to three different high schools, leaving as a sophomore to go to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia for increased exposure, and then returned home to Montrose Christian in Rockville, Maryland, as the second-ranked player in his senior class. The game he honed at Seat Pleasant’s Berry Farms outdoor courts and the local recreational center that now bears his name has taken him far beyond its walls – a connection he holds in the highest regard.
At 29, he’s won the McDonald’s All American Game MVP in San Diego, a Wooden Player of the Year Award in Austin, Olympic Gold medals in London and Rio De Janeiro, an MVP award in Oklahoma City, the heart of New York in his iconic Rucker Park performance, and championship trophies in Oakland. He’s traveled to India and China through a Nike sponsorship that’s reportedly worth over $300 million, and built basketball courts for kids in many of the aforementioned locales.
Twice now, he’s defeated LeBron James, a player Durant told The Undefeated marks the superstar standard he holds himself to.
“Once you do it for 10 years, win a championship and Finals MVP … I’m at a high level with my play and my skills. I feel like my peers and every coach can’t forget that I’m out there,” Durant said. “You can’t tell me otherwise. I know [James] knows that over there and the rest of the guys in the league know that too.”
It’s tough to imagine an NBA career bearing more fruit than Durant’s at its current juncture. That’s why retirement after just another five seasons may seem premature.
In July, he’s eligible to re-sign for four years at nearly $160 million with a Warriors team that has steamrolled opponents with unrelenting bursts of All-Star talent. He’s the best player on the best team, finally experiencing rewarding conclusions to the excellent basketball he’s consistently produced for 11 NBA seasons. His team is powerful enough to push through seemingly significant injuries without consequence, burying opponents with absurd third quarter runs.
Golden State took the floor 59 times this season missing Durant and/or Curry, yet still cruised to 58 wins and the second seed. Back-to-back championships are no walk in the park, but no team has emerged as a worthy challenger to the Warriors’ reign. As LeBron takes this summer to looks elsewhere for championship opportunities, Durant will be re-signing into a deck stacked in his favor again.
On the court, Durant’s completeness is secure. Nobody can match his offensive arsenal, and he’s upgraded his interior defense since moving west, posting a career-high in blocks this past year. It’s hard to imagine what more he could add to his game or what experience basketball has yet to provide him.
In a podcast with The Ringer’s Bill Simmons earlier this season, Durant detailed why he still dedicates every day to a personal pursuit of basketball mastery.
“Nowadays, I don’t want to play for awards or recognition. I want to be able to make a shot from every angle on the floor. I’m looking at this like I’m playing chess. I have a purpose now when I step on the court.”
For now, there are only more championships to contend for and historic dominance to continue, results of an all-encompassing commitment to his purpose in the game.
For the athletes that do it the best, retirement is a transition. From fulfilling your life through your craft to finding fulfillment in a life without it. In five years, what would Kevin Durant’s post-career options have to be to outweigh continuing to play?
Those options are sprouting, as Durant has shown an interest in being more than an athlete, using his platform created by hoops to pursue off-court interests. Partnerships forged by Roc Nation and manager Rich Kleiman, along with Durant’s investments and sponsorships, are the foundation of his budding business empire and YouTube channel.
His move west was rooted in basketball, but with consideration of these personal growth opportunities as well. To Durant, basketball and business decisions are intertwined, complementing parts of his evolution.
“The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction,” Durant wrote in his announcement on The Players’ Tribune.
“But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth. With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.”
In the thick of the tech hub in Northern California, Durant invested in a successful investing app, Acorns, and the food delivery app, Postmates. One would imagine there are far more options on his virtual menu in the heart of San Francisco, whether it be cuisines or start-ups looking for funding, than in Oklahoma.
Part of tapping into his greatest potential are his moves in one of the most rapidly growing spaces for athletes: player-produced media. He’s an investor in The Players’ Tribune, photographed Super Bowl 50 on its behalf, and has a YouTube channel with over 25 million views. Thirty Five Media, which he co-owns with Kleiman, produces videos that follow Durant throughout the globe. The media company also debuts his newest Nike footwear, provides Virtual Reality content and showcases parking lot Q&A’s with Warriors center JaVale McGee.
Most recently, Apple announced it would be developing a drama series with Thirty Five Media based on Durant’s early life and AAU basketball experience.
Between charity, investments and player-produced media, Kevin Durant clearly has no interest in a one-dimensional life where he “shuts up and dribbles.” Basketball has changed his life, but it isn’t his entire life. If his career happens to conclude on the earlier side, rest assured: Kevin Durant’s life will keep evolving well past age 35, covering new ground wherever he decides is next.
Image Source: Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports