Dime has been chronicling Kevin Durant‘s rise to fame since the OKC star was still a youngster in high school. The subject of multiple magazine covers — from his cover at Texas, when he asked that his fellow starting Longhorns pose with him on it, to his most recent in Dime 73 this past spring — Durant’s story often reads like something out of a basketball comic book: He was blessed with limitless abilities… and from there he went on to fight basketball crime…
As always, however, there’s more to it.
While we’ve spent thousands of words shedding light on KD’s upbringing, we still aren’t touching The Backpack Baller. The 250-page book is a must for any Durant fan. Combining on-the-court features, with a look into Durant’s rise as a cultural and fashion icon, to analyzing how KD’s one-of-a-kind work ethic developed, The Backpack Baller will take you inside Kevin Durant’s 25-year journey.
You can help make sure it sees the light by supporting it yourself. In the meantime, I caught up with Brad Graham, the author, to talk about Durant and what he learned after spending years researching, writing and crafting this book.
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Dime: What got you interested in writing this book?
Brad Graham: I’ve always loved well designed coffee-table books, especially those about basketball (think Michael Jordan‘s Driven From Within or the two FreeDarko books) and because what I love consumes my entire life, I’ve spent the better part of my professional life thinking about the perfect subject (for which to base a cool looking book).
Interestingly, books, above all else, need time. They require time for research, time for editing and time for history to help with context. Time is also needed for the author to develop a specific set of skills. I didn’t realise this until halfway through the book writing process. For a quality book to be produced, time needs to be respected.
As far as how I ended up obsessing about Kevin Durant to the point where an entire book was possible, well, that started way back in 2006 when I saw KD play at the Coaches vs. Cancer 2K Classic (at Madison Square Garden). Fast forward to the 2012 London Olympics and I realized that Kevin Durant was responsible for three modern basketball masterpieces: His freshman season at Texas; that meteoric third NBA campaign with the 2010 World Champs encore and his untouchable summer 2011 to summer 2012 run, which concluded with Team USA Gold in London.
With those three mountains decorating the landscape, I wanted to see what else the KD countryside featured. One transcendent showing isn’t new but three before the age of 25 really captivated me. So I went about charting everything KD related, the findings are all nicely presented in my 250-page book.
Dime: How long did it take you? What kind of research did you take part in?
BG: The seeds for the book were planted in 2006 but I didn’t start actively working on it as a possible tangible product until late 2011. It was months of research, months of writing, months of designing, months of re-writes and months of polishing. I never imagined it would take two years to nearly complete the project but that’s exactly what has happened. As far as research goes, that’s actually what helped me decide to write the book. Not only have I interviewed KD every year since he joined the NBA in ’07, giving me a scope on which to make assessments about him but I’ve spoken with ex-teammates (eg: Jeff Green), current running mates (Russell Westbrook), National Team counterparts (LeBron James), childhood friends (Michael Beasley, Ty Lawson), ex-NBA players (Dominique Wilkins) and many others, from seasoned media to international fans, to really understand KD’s positioning on and off the court. I’ve read just about every magazine, newspaper and online article ever written about Durant and throughout the past six years I’ve spoken with people from each city he has played in to get a firm grip on his evolution.
Dime: What was the most difficult aspect?
BG: That’s a loaded question so I’ll answer it in third parts…. Firstly, as a designer, deciding on the book’s cover was a mountain sized task. So many portraits, styles and layouts were messed with. The book’s interior stacks up against anything out there but I knew that I’d need a killer cover to help sell the book in a crowded marketplace (while also pleasing both Durant die-hards and casual NBA folk)… secondly, as any writer knows, you’re only as good as your editor and I was fortunate enough to have the talented editorial surgeon Brian Duff in my corner. With Brian on side, it was a matter of letting go so he could shave where needed. Long form editorial becomes a matter of exclusion and rather than tell the entire journey with work, I devised a way to use imagery to help convey key messages… Lastly, funding to get this project to market has become the toughest challenge of all. As someone who has produced NBA-based magazines for years, I knew writing and designing The Backpack Baller wouldn’t be all that difficult but with Durant changing agents twice during the life of the book I’ve had a hard time developing the relationships needed to have them back this project. That’s why I turned to KickStarter, so KD fans all over the globe could become a part of this book (via the rewards systems)… and let me just say this, it’s not everyday NBA fans can get involved in their favorite players literary exploits, so be sure to pledge your support.
Dime: Anything surprise you in your research about KD?
BG: Definitely. A couple of things that immediately come to mind are how many people inside the Portland organization wanted — and were urging — then GM Kevin Pritchard to draft KD in ’07. Everyone knew it was a coin-flip between Durant and Greg Oden but from all reports, Pritchard was in the minority and dismissed trusted advisor opinion… I was also surprised by how close Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant were as kids. It’s one thing to both love hoop, it’s another to eat breakfast in the same house and catch the bus to school together. Whether it’s simply a result of geographical convenience, or by influence of their moms, Mike and KD were close friends and rarely do two people who share so much as youngsters end up both achieving the same (NBA) dream — the math is mind-boggling. Then there were other surprises like the car he learned how to drive in (a Hyundai) or the ex-teammates he would spend hours at his home studio with (Joe Smith). The book is full of little gems like that.
Dime: Why do you think Durant is so connected with the area that he grew up in?
BG: It was the only world he knew until basketball afforded him the opportunity to live elsewhere (and see life outside of Maryland). Generations of his family are there so naturally, KD treats his childhood neighborhood like some sort of sacred tribal grounds. Plus, Durant was nomadic in his late teens/early 20s. He lived in six cities within the span of four years. That’s a lot of moving (on and being forced to start new). Seat Pleasant doesn’t just offer KD a point to return to, it’s his fortress of solitude. He endured tragedy there, enjoyed triumph there, so naturally he’s fond of the place that provided him with rich experience.
Dime: What were the things that stuck out to you about KD over the course of working on this book?
BG: How dedicated to basketball he really is. He trains like a 12th man trying to make the roster. Durant never grew up the son of a pro (Kobe) or had adjusted to fame before turning 18 (LeBron) so everything has been a fight for him. Sure those other titans work just as hard but they don’t work harder. Durant is also all about respect. He respects the history of the game, the hard work required to improve, his competitors, the people and fans who make his fame possible and the many influences and guiding forces that have helped to shape him.
Dime: KD recently reiterated that he’s tired of being second. Where do you think that determination to be the best comes from?
BG: His determination to be the best stems from him enjoying the fruits of his own hard work. Durant sees the results in his team contending for the title. He sees it when asked by Team USA to be their primary weapon. He grasps his influence when Nike asks him to commit to their summer-long campaign… It’s self-propelling really. The more his team advances in the playoffs (as a direct result from his abilities) the more he wants to work at making sure he can repeat his success. He’s never satisfied in that regard. He views every game as another opportunity to improve and sees life as a continually body of work, not independent moments. Above all else, he feels blessed to be in the situation he’s in. That drives him, gives him unlimited motivation. Durant wants to take full advantage of what’s possible while he’s young and able.
Dime: He’s considered one of America’s most humble superstar athletes. Did that come through when researching this book?
BG: Absolutely. He’s not comfortable talking himself up. Never talks about himself in third person and is sincerely appreciative anytime someone thinks he’s an alien on the court. Naturally, he has his moments where he’s a 20-something millionaire and like to be out but he’s never rude, condescending or disrespectful. He just gets tired from all the attention because, at times, it can be relentless. Money certainly hasn’t changed Durant, it has only afforded him the opportunity to be more visible. Ask anyone who has interviewed him and they all say the same thing: he’s accommodating, polite and truly humble. Few stars are the genuine article, KD, without doubt, is NBA bullion.
Dime: What do you think the future holds for him?
BG: A dozen more All-NBA selections… But seriously, an MVP trophy is on the cards and so is another trip to the NBA Finals. Winning either will depend largely on LeBron James (with the media’s boredom playing its part). I actually talk at length about Durant’s friendship and rivalry with King James in the book… Away from the NBA, another World Champs Gold medal finish (in Spain) is highly likely and if all the stars align, another Olympic Gold will follow in Brazil 2016. Off the court, I’ve got it on good authority that the Swoosh are grooming Durant to become the face of their basketball division — which he largely already is but once Kobe retires the push, from what I’ve been told, will be Durant focused… And bigger picture? The Hall of Fame is where he’ll end up. Even if Durant never plays another NBA game again, he’s going to the Hall.
Oh, and before we finish, I just want to say thanks to the team at Dime for giving me this opportunity to talk about the book. Without media organizations like Dime, getting word out about the KickStarter campaign wouldn’t be possible, so know I appreciate Dime doing their part to help bring this project to the awareness of people.
Will KD win this year’s MVP?
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