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Kevin Durant, named most valuable player in the NBA Finals for his clutch shooting, is making what he hopes will be a well-aimed shot — at cloud computing.
The Golden State Warriors star invested an undisclosed amount in start-up Rubrik and was named a board adviser for advice on strategic marketing initiatives.
"It's a perfect opportunity" in the business-to-business market that is a "major play for us," Durant told USA TODAY exclusively Monday, a day before he was to represent the cloud-data management start-up at the VMworld tech conference in Las Vegas.
It used to be that professional athletes tried to capitalize — and extend — their millions in contract payouts and endorsement deals by buying restaurants or starting music labels. These days, if the player hails from the NBA, they're more likely to want to score returns in tech.
"Being in Silicon Valley, I play in front of (tech executives) and run into them at restaurants," Durant says in explaining his growing list of tech investments.
Durant is one of several NBA superstars making a fast break for tech investments, partnerships and start-up equity. Coached by well-connected venture capitalists such as Ben Horowitz and an NBA off-court education program, they are taking stakes in start-ups and partnering with major brands.
Golden State Warriors teammates Stephen Curry (co-founder of social media start-up Slyce) and Andre Iguodala (investor in Apple, Twitter, Facebook and Tesla) have also made the rounds. Twice, the online secondhand clothing marketplace for which Iguodala was men's style director, was sold to eBay for an undisclosed sum in 2015.
It doesn't end in the San Francisco Bay Area. Last year, league legend Kobe Bryant launched a $100 million venture fund focused on tech, data and media companies.
Since he signed with the NBA champion Warriors in July 2016, Durant has left his heart in Silicon Valley.
His umbrella corporation, Durant Company, has plowed money into Postmates, an on-demand delivery service, and investment app Acorns. It has invested in film and television development, hotels and restaurants. And it's huddling with uber-angel investor Ronald Conway "to bounce around ideas and understand the business," Durant says.
According to a New York Times profile of Durant, he celebrated his birthday at the home of Horowitz and watched election results at the home of Apple exec Eddy Cue along with Apple CEO Tim Cook and musician Pharrell Williams. The tech vibe is in evidence at Warriors home games at Oracle Arena. Among the regulars courtside are Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Cue and Zach Nelson, Netsuite's CEO who sold his company to Oracle for $9.3 billion last year.
NBA's tech-savvy players
Career development programs are a staple of the league's efforts to educate players on money management, diversity, media training, nutrition, social media and handling stress. The league's Job Shadow Program gives players the opportunity to learn more from the offices of Google, EA Sports, American Express, Esquire and Turner/TNT.
"Players train together and, increasingly, invest together," says Darren Heitner, a sports attorney in Fort Lauderdale who represents NBA players such as Draymond Green and Iman Shumpert. He credits Chris Bosh, who studied engineering at Georgia Tech; Carmelo Anthony, whose Melo7 Tech Partners has stakes in 28 companies; and Iguodala as those at the forefront of tech investing in the tightly-knit NBA community.
"By and large, players in the NBA are able to vastly improve financial situations with guaranteed, multimillion-dollar contracts" courtesy of a record $2.6 billion TV deal, Heitner says. "Rather than get paid in one-off endorsement deals, they're leveraging investment opportunities for longer-term security."
In the tightly-knit NBA community, with fewer players than in the NFL and Major League Baseball, athletes tend to train together and share advice, according to Heitner.
Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic invested in and advises mental-fitness app maker Lucid Performance because of his work with Graham Betchart, Lucid's director of mental training. As president of player acquisitions, Gordon, born and raised in nearby San Jose, recruits other athletes to promote the brand. "This gives me a great, great look into entrepreneurship," Gordon says. "It would be nice to move" into tech, post-NBA career.
The marketing team at Rubrik connected with Durant via NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, an early investor in Rubrik, says Bipul Sinha, CEO of the 500-person company valued at $1.3 billion.
"We were blown away by KD's know-how in tech and his team's thought process on Silicon Valley," Sinha says.
No slam dunk
Of course, not every investment by a pro athlete or celebrity is a slam dunk or grand slam.
Sports agents and athletes point to the cautionary tales, such as those of Gilbert Arenas and Antoine Walker, both of whom squandered fortunes despite each earning more than $100 million during their careers.
"From a tech investor perspective, I would point out that celebrities have generally been exploited by those raising money," venture-capital legend Roger McNamee says.
But those are risks Durant and his peers are willing to take.
"I bounce ideas off (Conway and Horowitz)," he says. "Those are good mentors to give us knowledge."
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