His enthusiasm is endearing, his humbleness is honorable, his image is immaculate and his skills are sensational.
Together, these are the things experts say have turned Kevin Durant into a marketing monster.
Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder star entering his fifth NBA season, has quickly become the perfect pitchman, with a total package that is both attractive to elite companies and appealing to every day consumers.
“When you look at him, I think what you see is his genuine enthusiasm for the game of basketball, which I think is important when you look at the bad taste that this lockout might have left with some fans,” said Dr. Stephen McDaniel, who studies sports and entertainment marketing at the University of Maryland.
Durant's endorsement portfolio includes Nike, Gatorade, Electronic Arts, Panini America, Degree Men and Skullcandy.
When Durant's new Nike commercial “Paint the town” made its television debut last Sunday, though, the ad immediately became Durant's biggest splash onto the national scene. Right away, it generated rave reviews across the spectrum, from sports commentators to social critics.
While criticizing Durant for playing flag football this week, ESPN First Take's Skip Bayless couldn't help but admire the ad that shows Durant driving around Oklahoma City in the middle of the night searching high and low for a pickup game.
“I can believe that is Kevin Durant,” Bayless said, “because I can see him driving a van through the countryside just looking for a game because all he wants to do is play basketball.”
Cultural critic Toure recently posted similar approval to his Twitter account.
“The Kevin Durant ad where he's driving around finding little pickup games and playing with anyone is beautiful. #LoveOfTheGame” he wrote.
Steve Tebon, CEO of Florida-based Game ON Sports Marketing and author of the book Game ON: The Power of the Sports Marketing Deal, said Durant's performance is what has consumers convinced his passion is real.
“He's matured pretty nicely since he came out (of college) early,” said Tebon. “But he's just a good ballplayer. That really helps. Credibility is on the court.”
Tebon added that Durant's appearance — most notably his lack of visible tattoos —and his style of play also have factored into his appeal.
“He's got the look,” Tebon said. “He's got that All-American, boyish clean-face look. Even though he's black, he comes across pretty down the middle of the road. And he's not a jaw-talker. He'll bring it down the middle and throw it down, but he's not turning around and yapping in your face or anything like that.”
That clean-cut image has made it easier for mainstream America to gravitate to Durant. In the early 1990s, Charles Barkley stirred a storm of controversy when he appeared in a Nike ad declaring that he was not a role model. But McDaniel now says Durant “is sort of the antithesis of that.”
“To me, it seems genuine,” McDaniel said. “It doesn't seem manufactured.
“In this day in age with the prima donna athlete, especially in the NBA where players start dictating where they want to go play, you never hear him say anything bad about playing in Oklahoma City. He doesn't say he wants to go play in New York or L.A. He seems perfectly fine playing in a smaller market and being a team player.”
The next step for Durant, according to McDaniel, is to graduate from the performance category which includes shoes, apparel and nutritional supplements. When Durant lands deals in industries like banking, automotive, insurance, soft drinks, candy or jewelry, McDaniel said, you'll know he has arrived.
NFL stars such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and brothers Peyton and Eli Manning have achieved such status. But Durant, McDaniel said, possesses the potential to surpass even those mega-endorsers and move closer to an elite list that includes Michael Jordan and pre-scandal Tiger Woods.
“Those are the endorsers that could sort of transcend their sport and gender and race,” McDaniel said. “And if you think about that, with the kind of skill set Durant has those are pretty hard things to find in combination.
“If you see him continue his upward trajectory with his playing, I would say that he's going to become more of a celebrity, more known outside of Oklahoma City and that's when the other opportunities start opening up.”