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Kevin Durant: Being vulnerable, studying others’ success all part of leadership

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Brooklyn Nets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

In an event aimed at high school, college and graduate students who want to get into teh business of sports, Kevin Durant talked about how he’s grown professionally, how collaboration, vulnerability and studying others’ success have all played a role.

The “Young CEO” program, part of a partnership between Durant’s The Boardroom and Overtime, also featured Steve Nash, Adam Silver and Naomi Osaka, the top-ranked women’s tennis player in the world. Shlomo Sprung of Forbes Sports Money reported on the conversation.

KD spoke with Dan Porter, the CEO of Overtime, the digital sports network (that he’s invested in), taking questions from both Porter and a virtual audience of young people. As a star in the NBA, Durant said he understands the role he plays as a locker room leader, but noted as well the power of humility.

“A lot of questions come about in the locker room and you have to be prepared to tell the truth for one,” KD said, “but also being vulnerable is a huge thing as well if you want to lead guys in the right direction.”

He added that the star’s role is only one part of the equation, that leadership has to be organization-wide. He asserted that the key piece of any NBA team’s success is the head coach.

“And if our principles are not aligned, then it could cause a disconnect between the team and the coach,” Durant said. “So as long as everybody’s on the same page and we’ve got one singular goal that we want to achieve and we all know our own roles and how we can help contribute to that goal. So it starts from the top.”

Moreover, he said, there has to be open communication across the board. Durant and Kyrie Irving were criticized recently for saying collaboration was critical to coaching, something Nash also touched on Tuesday in his town hall. It’s a process, he admitted to Porter.

“Speaking what’s on your mind in the moment and holding everybody accountable from top to bottom,” Durant said is key to leadership. “And once that happens, you start to get better over time and you start getting more comfortable with having conversations with your teammates once you problem solve or try to find solutions.

“And you could only do that by talking to each other and getting to know each other personally. It goes a long way, just consistently having that dialogue with people you’re working with.”

As for the role players —whether “A” players or “B” players, Durant said gathering talent is just one part of success.

“I think it’s more challenging to get the most talented people in one room and get them to focus on one goal,” Durant said. “I think it’s harder to do that. I think it’s easier to have the underdogs, to lead them in the right direction. They’re looking for a leader. But guys that have their own personalities, their own opinions on things, their own routines, it’s harder for you to get them all on one page. I think that would be a cool challenge.

“And honestly, having the most talent is always great. But to have them focus and get outside themselves and realize that they may not be good at one area and this other guy may help them, you see the beauty of a human when they put their egos to the side and work together.”

As for recognizing others’ success, KD spoke of the variety of people he’s followed, who he’s wanted to study. The range included Kanye West, the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, Michael Jordan and Elon Musk, those who’ve created not just art but business models.

“I wanted to see how they got to that point mastering their craft,” Durant told Porter. “From a Basquiat to a Dr. Dre to a Michael Jordan to a Jay Electronica. All types of people that I feel are great at what they do. Elon Musk, guys like that who really spent a lot of time thinking. Kanye West. I just try to see what their perspective was and try to make it my own and do my own thing.”

It’s all about understanding how creativity and leadership can work together.

Durant, who left the University of Texas after his freshman year, told Porter that going back to school is something he’s thought about ... and agreed with Porter that now, as a 32-year-old with a long list of accomplishments, he knows what he wants to learn.

The conference was sponsored by Degree Deodorant which partnered with Durant back in July to donate a million dollars to multiple organizations to help teach kids the power of sports in combating social issues.