"I Want To Do My Part." An NBA Star and Rising Philanthropist Steps Up His Giving

photo: Leonard Zhukovsky/shutterstock

photo: Leonard Zhukovsky/shutterstock

Golden State Warriors superstar forward Kevin Durant was in the news recently after he and Lebron James starred in a video in which they spoke about the political division in the country and were critical of President Trump. Fox News' Laura Ingraham hit back, telling the athletes to simply "shut up and dribble." 

But it's unlikely that these and other NBA stars will stay quiet about the issues that concern them. And one way some top athletes are expressing their views is through philanthropy backstopped by some serious personal wealth. Together, Durant and James earned nearly $150 million last year, according to Forbes. Both are building major fortunes. And both are increasing their giving, along with other current and former basketball players, many of whom grew up in distressed communities and haven't forgotten where they came from. 

In recent years, I've tracked the philanthropy of several NBA stars. Lebron's family foundation recently partnered with the University of Akron to provide four-year scholarships for students in his “I Promise” program, an effort some have estimated will cost around $41 million. I also wrote about Draymond Green's $3.1 million gift to his alma mater Michigan State University, and Michael Jordan's big gifts to the Smithsonian African American Museum, the Institute for Community-Police Relations, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and others have been outspoken about issues like police brutality, and I've wondered if some of their gifts were indicative of this new generation of athlete engagement and activism. Indeed, many players are doing much more than just dribbling a ball.

Kevin Durant is a case in point. Apart from filming that video with his on-court rival Lebron James, Durant also recently made news in his native Prince George's County, Maryland. No, K.D. isn't finally coming home. Sorry, Wizards fans! Rather, Durant has committed $10 million to a partnership between Prince George's County Public Schools and College Track. The funds will create the Durant Center, College Track's new building in the Maryland-D.C. region. While K.D.'s hoops talent brought him to the University of Texas at Austin, Oklahoma City (with a brief pitstop in Seattle), and now the Bay Area, Durant got his start in Prince George's County, and is now giving back to the region that raised him.

We've written about K.D.'s nascent giving before. At the start of the year, he donated $3 million to UT Austin. Earlier in the decade, meanwhile, he made a $1 million donation toward recovery efforts after tornadoes battered Oklahoma. He also set up a foundation called the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation (KDCF), which has supported places like Tulsa Dream Center and the Boys and Girls Club of Wilson.

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The college completion organization College Track has several locations in Northern and Southern California, as well as facilities in Colorado and Louisiana. Since its founding more than two decades ago (Laurene Powell Jobs was a co-founder and remains a top backer), the organization now serves over 3,000 high school and college students across the country.

Durant's gift brings College Track to the Eastern seaboard for the first time. The Durant Center will be the first of three facilities planned for the D.C. area. As Durant tells the Washington Post, “We didn’t have the resources to get our minds thinking about the next level. I want to do my part, whatever it is. If College Track students want to be the next Steve Jobs or the next influencer or the next tastemakers, they can get there.”

With Durant fresh off his first championship with the Golden State Warriors (presumptive favorites again this year... sigh), expect him to remain plugged in to nearby Silicon Valley. Two years ago, Durant and his business partner Rich Kleiman formed the VC firm Durant Group, which has invested in tech companies, hotels and restaurants, and more. K.D. earned $62.5 million last year and nabbed a $300 million Nike deal. Not bad.

But besides the 29-year-old's growing wealth, it's also worth thinking about the many spaces in which he already moves. Is it any surprise that Durant would partner with a well-known Bay Area nonprofit with the hopes of bringing that same success to his local community? 

Though some would like to reduce NBA players to the 94-foot-long court, what we're actually seeing is the emergence of a new class of civic-minded givers.