Kevin Durant is one of sports' biggest brands. But as he enters his 17th NBA season, the Phoenix Suns superstar still cares about basketball and the future of the NBA more than business off the court.
Durant spoke on a bevy of topics during an interview at his media company Boardroom's joint sports business summit Game Plan 23 with CNBC, which aired on Tuesday.
But the keyword "joint" is a pun intended for the biggest highlight of his and CNBC anchor Andrew Sorkin's discussion.
Durant was asked about his cannabis business ventures and players now being able to promote brands that sell marijuana and its byproducts. He explained that he personally reached out to the league's commissioner Adam Silver, who "agreed" that the NBA's longtime marijuana ban should be eliminated from its substance abuse policy.
SPORTS NEWSLETTER: Sign up to get the latest news and features sent to your inbox
The new seven-year collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and player's union that became effective July 1 lifted the weed ban.
"I actually called him and advocated for him to take marijuana off the banned substance list," Durant said. "I just felt like it was becoming a thing around the country, around the world, that it was the stigma behind it wasn’t as negative as it was before. It doesn’t affect you in any negative way."
— CNBC Events (@cnbcevents) July 26, 2023
Before the current labor agreement, repercussions for violators of the the marijuana policy included required entry into the league's treatment and counseling program after the first violation, a $25,000 fine for the second violation, and a five-game suspension without pay after the third.
In 2021, the NBA announced it would stop randomly testing players for marijuana, in continuation with its 2020 Covid "restart bubble" policy. The league began to prioritize random testing for performance-enhancing drugs, growth hormones and illicit "drugs of abuse” such as cocaine, opiates and methamphetamine.
Durant downplayed the notion from Sorkin that he's a pioneering lobbyist who helped change that policy, but confirmed, “I just enjoy the plant."
Durant was further questioned about how he persuaded Silver to get on board to eradicate the ban. He admitted how brazen he was to have his attire reek after blazing ganja shortly before their in-person meeting.
"Well, he smelled it when I walked in, so I ain’t really have to say much," Durant said as the crowd laughed. "He kind of understood where this was going. And I mean, it’s the NBA, man. Everybody does it, to be honest. It’s like wine at this point."
In addition, Durant explained how he enjoys being a businessman, but his branding obligations became overwhelming to handle. Then his agent and Boardroom co-founder Rich Kleiman mutually decided for Durant to take a step back and refocus on perfecting his craft.
"I like my time, and a lot of that stuff was time-consuming," Durant said. "You know, six-hour (photo) shoots and flying different places. My summer was filled with obligations from partners and I just asked Rich one day, 'Do I have to do all this?' And he was like, 'No.' But it was just that simple.
"And I just liked having the time to think about what I wanted to think about, which is the game of basketball, to be honest. I felt like a lot of that stuff was distracting me from actually, truly locking into what my true passion was, which was playing the game."
The interview eventually moved toward Durant's interest in becoming part of an NBA team ownership group someday. And the discourse among the NBA media over the past few years about the league possibly returning a team to Seattle.
After 41 years in Seattle, one world title in 1979 and three Western Conference championship victories, the Seattle Supersonics franchise moved to Oklahoma City in 2008 and renamed itself the Thunder the following year.
Durant was drafted by Seattle out of Texas in 2007. Durant said he'd support an expansion team placed there again and be a Seattle owner.
"That would be cool for sure in a perfect world," Durant said. "Whatever opportunity comes up, hopefully I can be a part of something special. But yeah, Seattle would be the ideal spot. They deserve to have a team there again, and I would love to be a part of the NBA in that fashion. But we’ll see."
— CNBC Events (@cnbcevents) July 26, 2023
Durant spent his eight seasons in Oklahoma City, won the 2014 MVP award with the Thunder, then left for the Golden State Warriors two years later. He earned two consecutive NBA Finals MVP honors with Golden State in 2017 and 2018.
When Durant was asked if the NBA should have more expansion teams, he replied that it’s possible, but is unsure if the NBA Board of Governors would be willing to split up revenue adding "four or five new teams" amid the league’s current success.
"Everybody loves basketball. And what these franchises do to a city, I was a part of an expansion-like franchise in OKC, and to see where that city was in 2008, 2009, and to see where it is now, like four or five skyscraper buildings that I would’ve never thought would be there," Durant said.
"Resort-like hotels, trolleys through the city, stuff that I would’ve never seen, I think a lot of that is because of the injection of a sports franchise to that city. I feel like a lot of cities in the United States are calling Adam Silver to bring a team to their city."
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Suns' Kevin Durant says he helped lift NBA's marijuana ban