Tonight on HBO: Kevin Durant's Hour-Long Ad for Kevin DurantBy
As an alternative to election night coverage, HBO will launch The Offseason: Kevin Durant, an hour-long documentary about how last season’s National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player spent the summer. For basketball fans, there are worse ways to spend an hour than with such minor thrills as Steve Nash teaching Durant to get away with fouls and Durant trash-talking with Carmelo Anthony in a pick-up game. Here’s how Durant explains his failure to attract free-agent Pau Gasol to join him in Oklahoma City: “He was more concerned about the city. He’s into, like, orchestra and plays.”
Those seeking drama, conflict, or the unexpected would probably do better with the midterms—or maybe try whatever is on Bravo. Toward the beginning of The Offseason, Durant outlines his daily routine: “My whole day revolves around me waking up, working out, grab something to eat, I shoot over there and go hoop with them, go eat again, slide over there and play in that game, and then just getting up that next morning and going to work out.” There are plenty of visuals to go with this account.
Besides getting out of bed, eating, training, and playing basketball, Durant is shown playing video games with childhood friends, flying in chartered jets, riding in the back of SUVs, and talking to kids at his basketball camp. In between, the star talks straight to the camera. ”Not being on the floor with my team for the first month is going to be tough,” he says of the foot injury he suffered in the preseason. That’s about as deep as the introspection gets.
The Offseason is part of trend whereby star athletes become their own media wings. No longer content just to play the games and give quotes to reporters, the most sought-after players are now writing first-person stories, running digital media startups, and producing television and online videos. Last year, for instance, Steve Nash collaborated with ESPN’s Grantland on a video series about his efforts to rehabilitate from injuries. In October, Derek Jeter launched the Players’ Tribune, a site on which athletes post essays and get senior editor titles. LeBron James has gone the roman-a-clef route, co-producing Survivor’s Remorse, a drama series on Starz about a basketball player’s escape from poverty.
These projects range from surprisingly good (Nash admitting that money is a part of his motivation, or Blake Griffin writing about his former boss, Donald Sterling) to predictably terrible (Derek Jeter’s photo essay on cleaning out his locker). All of them are self-serving. They cannot be otherwise. The Offseason counts Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, Rich Kleiman, and Juan Perez among its executive producers. They are part of Roc Nation, the sports marketing agency that represents Durant.
The show is not so much a documentary as an hour-long advertisement. Footage of ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith saying that Durant needs to work on posting-up against smaller players is followed by footage of Durant in a gym working on his post-up moves against a smaller defender. There are shots of Kleiman, Durant’s agent, gazing into his phone. And there’s Michael Yormark, chief of branding strategy at Roc Nation, giving a presentation to Durant sponsors gathered in a Las Vegas conference room: “KD Buzzwords: Passionate, Humble, Giving, Professional, Grounded, Original.”
Meanwhile, Durant’s major business decision of the summer—to spurn advances from Under Armour and stay with Nike—is left to off-screen voices from anonymous radio announcers until the moment when Yormark presents Durant with “just the signature page” of his $275 million dollar contract. “I can’t wait to sign this one,” Durant says in the same flat tone he carries throughout.
The main problem for The Offseason is that Durant, an impossibly electric player on the court, is thoroughly low-voltage off it. Even with four months of footage to work with, the show struggles to fill 60 minutes. There is nothing wrong with an entertainment company turning over control to a celebrity and his agents for an hour. Durant is not a head-of-state. He doesn’t owe anybody a complete and transparent explanation of his sneaker contract decision. But HBO should have asked for more entertainment in return.