Can Kevin Durant Do No Wrong?

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 27: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts to a play in the third quarter against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Four of the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 27, 2014 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Kevin Durant is about to cash in for all the right reasons. The Oklahoma City Thunder superstar just landed an epic endorsement deal to remain with the Nike brand he's represented since coming into the league in 2007.

Fresh off his first MVP season, the 25-year-old became a very wanted man this summer.

The up-and-coming Under Armour brand first made Durant a lucrative offer few could afford to turn down. 

But as's Darren Rovell and Marc Stein reported, "Nike countered Under Armour's offer of between $265 million and $285 million and believes it will keep Kevin Durant for the next 10 years, sources told ESPN."

Per USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt, "The 10-year deal with Nike has the potential to reach $300 million and includes a $50 million retirement package, two people familiar with the terms of the deal told USA Today Sports."

Endorsement deals are worth big money—often more than the salaries stars make with their respective NBA teams. But by any metric, this contract is massive.

It means Durant passes up the opportunity to join Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry as the face of Under Armour, in turn sticking around the far more established Nike—home to larger-than-life names like four-time MVP LeBron James, five-time champion Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan's very own Jordan Brand.

As Business Insider's Hayley Peterson notes, "Under Armour's offer was intended to widen its share of the basketball market, which now stands at less than 1 percent. By comparison, Nike is estimated to control 96 percent of that market."

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - May 31: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder showcases his sneakers against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Chesapeake Arena on May 31, 2014 in Oklahoma City
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Durant's arrangement with Nike comes at a time when his professional life is booming on and off the floor.

His career-high 32 points per contest led OKC to its third conference finals appearance in four years, and his marketability has reached new heights in the process. The Wall Street Journal's Ben Cohen and Sara Germano write:

Among active basketball players with a signature shoe line, Mr. Durant is second in sales only to Mr. James. Last year, retail sales of Mr. Durant's Nike KD shoes totaled $175 million, or about 4% of the overall basketball shoe market, compared with about $300 million for Mr. James, according to analyst Matt Powell of SportsOneSource.

Those kinds of sales speak to more than scoring titles and MVP honors alone. They tell the story of a star whose appeal has skyrocketed thanks to the same kind of intangibles that make his Thunder such a formidable foe.

An appeal that signifies Durant's apparent inability to do wrong.

Even after withdrawing from USA Basketball's participation in this summer's FIBA World Cup, few could stomach the notion of blaming Durant.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 30:  Kevin Durant #52 of the 2014 USA Basketball Men's National Team stands on the court during a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on July 30, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

"I need to take a step back and take some time away, both mentally and physically in order to prepare for the upcoming NBA season," Durant explained in an August statement, per "I will be rooting for USAB and look forward to future opportunities with them."

And that was that.

Were the endorsement negotiations a culprit?'s James Herbert suggested that "This whole [endorsement] situation was new territory for Durant, and many have speculated that the uncertainty of it was part of why he withdrew from Team USA in the middle of training camp."

But even if his quest for $300 million got in the way of patriotic fervor, it's hard to think any less of the guy. He's spent his seven professional seasons doing as much to cement his personal reputation as his skills on the floor.

Case in point: the MVP acceptance speech Durant delivered last season.

After thoroughly thanking each member of his team (along with the front office and coaching staff), KD turned his attention to his family—namely his mom.

"We wasn’t supposed to be here," Durant said at the time, per The Oklahoman. "You made us believe. You kept us off the street. You put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn't eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You the real MVP."

The heartfelt and humble sentiments saturating the speech were typical of Durant, a heaping dose of selflessness in a world (and league) consumed by self.

To be sure, this is nothing new for the five-time All-Star.

Writing for USA Basketball's youth website, Alan Stein—who worked with Durant as a strength and conditioning coach in high school—perhaps put it best.

While the entire planet is aware of what an exceptional basketball player KD is, I have always been most proud of him as a person. His character is unmatched. He is kind, generous, humble, and authentic. He is an exemplary role model in every sense of the word. His passion for the game is pure and his work ethic is unparalleled. He is the real deal.

Indeed, Durant's young legacy goes well beyond endearing speeches.

When a devastating tornado swept through Moore, Oklahoma, in 2013, Durant donated $1 million to the American Red Cross to aid with relief efforts. The Thunder matched Durant's gesture with another $1 million, and the NBA and Nike alike followed suit. Later that summer, Durant gave another $150,000 to community organizations where he grew up in Maryland.

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Last season, the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation teamed up with KIND (the snack company) to launch the "Strong and Kind" program

"I just want to let people know that being kind is not a sign of weakness," Durant said of the project, according to's Chris BroussardDurant explained at the time:

That's how I approach the game. If you see me play, I'm barking at guys, I'm talking trash, I'm being physical. But at the same time, if you fall on the ground, I'll help you up, and after the game we'll talk as friends. So it's not a weakness to be a kind person. Everybody always says nice guys finish last, but I'm trying to change that.

Though Durant has become increasingly demonstrative on the floor over the years (including a recent spike in technical fouls), his reputation as one of the good guys has hardly been tarnished.

Back in 2013, Durant even admitted to reporters, "I just got to shut up. I'm racking 'em up, man [referring to technical fouls]. Sometimes I get too excited and voice my opinion when I shouldn't. I just got to shut up and play the game."

Even without the compunction, who wouldn't forgive Durant?

His seamless marriage of ambition and classiness leaves Durant in rarified company. Even as he famously declared in 2013 that he was tired of being second, the competitive edge has never jeopardized his status as the NBA's Mr. Nice Guy.

Perhaps nice guys can indeed finish first after all.

They can certainly finish with countless millions in endorsement money.