Kevin Durant made a moving, compassionate speech after winning the NBA MVP award last June and by the time he was done–and the video had made its rounds on the Internet–KD had won over just about every last fan, even those who had earlier resisted his charm. Durant’s “likeability” factor skyrocketed–and it was already pretty high. A soft-spoken basketball genius, whose game is so smooth fans forget he’s even working out there, the 25-year-old was poised to be basketball’s eternal good guy. But a funny thing happened along the way: he signed with Jay Z’s agency, Roc Nation. And suddenly he’s issuing demands to Nike that his long time sponsor had better match his new suitor’s offer, or Durant will walk on over to Under Armour.
Hindsight may show it to be a classic case of bad reputation management. Whatever extra couple of million Durant gets out of these negotiations he may lose by conducting them in public, where Jay Z is used to doing business. For years Durant has been a quiet yet potent part of Nike’s basketball marketing efforts–the KD models Nike makes are enormously popular. They’re a cool choice that say something different than the ubiquitous LeBron models. Durant has been loyal to Nike and you get the feeling he’s not too comfortable playing the kind of hardball Jay Z is playing with his former–oops, current–company. Durant saves his competitive fire for the court. And while it all must have sounded good at the beginning–the Under Amour deal may be worth $285 million–Durant would be virtually alone there among superstars (save Steph Curry), no longer part of the Nike family where they take care of their own. Jay Z is a professional disruptive force–that’s what he’s a pro at, that’s what made him rich. Thing is, Durant may not really benefit financially from the hip-hop mogul’s special brand of disruption.