So, Kevin Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors. The team that just set a new NBA record by going 73-9 in the regular season. We’re talking about the 2015 NBA defending champions who already have a “Big Three” in Steph Curry, the first unanimously voted league MVP, Klay Thompson who’s arguably the best two guard in the league and Draymond Green who was the runner up for NBA defensive player of the year. REALLY?!?!
We’re talking about Kevin Durant here…I mean, we can all agree that he’s the second or third best basketball player in the world and he’s arguably one of the best scorers in NBA history.
So, why in the world would he join the Golden State Warriors?…I’ll tell you why!
It’s Hip Hop’s fault! Or, rather the fault of the culture Hip Hop created.
We can trace the birth of this glaring cultural influence back to Shawn ‘Jay Z’ Carter who was instrumental in pioneering a mentality of building a brand by leveraging one’s celebrity influence. He became one of the first Rapper/Artist to “successfully” evolve from being a mere music artist to a brand/businessman. He first co-founded Roc-A-Fella with Damon Dash and then made a move that would forever change the landscape of the Hip Hop Culture as it pertains to business. In 1999, he and Dash co-founded Rocawear and used their influence from the music industry to promote and grow the clothing brand. He essentially created a market where the music served as the vehicle for promotion and advertising any product an artist wanted to associate with their brand. And shortly after, artist like: 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Enimem, and Nelly were lining up to duplicate his efforts and enter this new market. These artists, like Jay Z, set out to use their influence to build their brands and essentially their empires and although Jay Z wasn’t the first to launch a product based business for the hip hop culture, he was the first to do so as a music artist.
This shift in mentality to focus on building a brand gave the music artist more power to control their earnings potential and the overall direction of their career which up until this point had been heavily controlled by their labels.
The hip hop artist became and an entrepreneur…better yet, a Brand.
So, what does this have to do with the NBA and Kevin Durant?
Well, if you’ve watched basketball in the last 20 years, you can clearly see how much of an impact the hip hop culture has had on the sport. With 74.4 percent of the players being of African American descent, there’s no surprise that this phenomenon occurred. But, if you had to pinpoint the origin of this occurrence, you would look no further than the “Answer” Allen Iverson. He singlehandedly brought the hip hop culture to the NBA in a major way. Whether it was tattoos, hairstyles, jewelry, music video cameos, off the court urban clothing and even baggier team uniforms, Iverson influenced it all. He had major players like Shaq and Kobe creating rap songs and boy did he have every black player attempting to express themselves in some kinda of way. Sure Dennis Rodman was probably the first NBA player to break the mode in terms of outward expression, but Iverson brought in the Hip Hop influence and literally ushered in this new sage of the NBA.
Iverson’s cultural persona transformed into something bigger than simply a sports icon. In fact, he was beginning to influence the entire realm of fashion. This trend is reflected in Reebok’s explosive sales growth during their wildly successful Iverson marketing campaigns. These campaigns ingeniously captured Iverson, hip-hop, and basketball in one powerful message that possessed great appeal to the American youth of this era who sought something different and defiant. By the 2001 season, Iverson’s jersey and shoe line (called “The Answer”) was outselling every other player in the league.
Iverson had become a brand. He had effectively brought the Jay Z pioneered mentality of being a brand into the NBA.
That’s why it was no coincidence when in 2003, Nike signed Lebron James to a $93 million endorsement deal. He was projected to be the second coming of Michael Jordan and Nike wanted to be ahead of the bell curve. And Reebok had already provided Nike with an example of how to market a player solely based on their cultural persona rather than their on the court accolades. Long gone were the days where a player had to prove himself on the court before he could get a big endorsement deal and become a brand. In fact, the majority of the superstar players that came along after 2003 seem to adapt this “I’m a brand before I’m a player” mentality.
Traditionally, superstar players in the NBA would compete in the NBA All-Star Weekend festivities which include a Three Point shootout, a Slam Dunk Contest and the All-Star Game. Prior to 2003, superstars like Vince Carter, Tracey McGrady, Dominique Wilkins, Kobe Bryant and Micheal Jordan all put their talents on display for the purity of competition and of the sport. However after 2003, the next generation of superstars like Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony elected not to enter into these contests out of what appeared to be a fear of damaging their brands. At this point, the hip hop culture pioneered by Jay-Z had completely infiltrated the league and still remains today.
The modern NBA player now looks to position themselves as brands the same way music artist did in the music industry. Players like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are more popular and successful off the court than they are on simply because of this shift for players to think more like businessmen and less like basketball players.
So, fast forward to 2016, almost 20 years since the hip hop culture infiltrated the NBA, it makes perfect sense why Kevin Durant would sign with the Golden State Warriors. He wants to win. But not for the traditional reason of winning, he wants to win so that he can take his brand to the next level. He wants to be mainstream! He wants a piece of the pie that Lebron, Wade and Stephen Curry have been enjoying for the past 3 years. When this is the focus, team loyalty becomes a second thought and a reputation around the league is not even a consideration.
So…in the grand scheme of things, let’s try laying off of Durant. He’s just a product of his environment. After all…
He’s not a businessman, he’s a ‘Business’ man!