Earlier this summer, Kevin Durant did something that surprised and delighted a subset of basketball fans. He spent a day riding around New York on a fixed-gear bicycle, hand-delivering shoes to people who ordered them through the on-demand delivery service Postmates. It wasn’t the first time Durant had done something like this—he surprised a group of Oklahomans by showing up to play in their flag football game during the 2011 National Basketball Association lockout—but spending a day as a Postmates delivery guy wasn’t pure whimsy. Durant has good reason to drum up attention: he quietly bought a stake in the company this spring.
The big Durant news, of course, came the following week when he announced he was joining the Golden State Warriors, a promising young team that came in second place in last year’s NBA championship. Durant described the move to the Bay Area primarily as a basketball decision, but it affords business opportunities as well. Durant seemed to hint at this in the statement he published announcing his decision on the Players’ Tribune (a website, not incidentally, that he owns a stake in.) Basketball aside, Durant wrote that he sought a situation 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.” His agent, Rich Kleiman, says that being in the Bay Area should present new business opportunities.
Durant’s interest in Postmates dates back about two years, when Kleiman turned him on to it. The service operates in 21 of the 28 cities with NBA teams, and Durant began using it to order food when he was in Oklahoma City or on the road. While in San Francisco for the Super Bowl, Durant happened to drive by the Postmates office. He suggested going in immediately, but Kleiman recommended setting up a proper meeting. The end result was an investment of less than $1 million. It’s a drop in the bucket both for Postmates, which has raised well over $100 million in funding, and Durant, who will make about $325,000 per game next year.
The investment is one of a handful in Durant’s portfolio. There’s the Players Tribune; Tiger Beat, the teeny-bopper gossip magazine; and Acorns, a company that lets people round up the cost of daily purchases and invest the difference. Durant also took an equity stake in the flavored water company Sparkling Ice in exchange for serving as a company pitchman.
Athletes have long fancied themselves as businessmen—what town doesn’t have a restaurant or car dealership owned by a beloved local sports hero? In recent years, there’s been a burgeoning love affair between the NBA and Silicon valley. Carmelo Anthony has his own venture firm focused on digital media and wearable technology, Durant’s new teammate Andre Iguodala hold stakes in various tech companies and boasts about networking with venture capitalists who sit courtside at Oakland’s Oracle Arena. Next week, the NBA players’ union is holding its first-ever tech summit, intended in part to connect players to potential business partners. Iguodala will lead the summit, and Jawbone, SV Angel and Andreessen Horowitz are among the attendees.
Tech startups don’t necessarily need pro athletes’s money, but they can leverage their celebrity into free publicity. Postmates has taken small investments from about a half-dozen other celebrities, including the actor Jared Leto. “We get access to brainstorms with them, and it kind of helps spread the word,” said Bastian Lehmann, Postmates’s chief executive officer. “But we haven’t fully executed on a plan yet to leverage them.”
According to Lehmann, the deal between Postmates and Durant didn’t place any specific financial value on his marketing potential—he got the same financial terms as other investors. Still, Durant understands what his public stature means for the company. “Now that I’m in the Bay, Rich and I plan on living out of their offices and doing anything in our power to make Postmates succeed at the highest level,” he said in an e-mail.
It should also be said that Lehmann did this deal in part because it’s just neat. In the hyper-competitive tech scene, he now has a very rare asset: an official relationship with the highest-profile newcomer in town. Lehmann is an avid basketball player himself, but hasn’t been able to leverage the financial relationship into a pickup game with his latest business partner. “He has a very regimented training schedule,” he said. “He can’t just shoot around.”