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Originally published June 24, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 24, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Plenty at stake for Durant on draft day

In monetary terms, the difference between Nos. 1 and 2 in Thursday's NBA draft is about $1.9 million over the span of a four-year rookie...

Seattle Times staff reporter

In monetary terms, the difference between Nos. 1 and 2 in Thursday's NBA draft is about $1.9 million over the span of a four -year rookie contract.

For Kevin Durant, however, there's so much more at stake.

Regardless of where he's chosen, the high-scoring Texas forward is slated to make more endorsement dollars than anybody else in the draft. Still, he'll be able to command much more in sponsorships if the Portland Trail Blazers surprise everyone and take him first overall instead of Ohio State center Greg Oden.

"First is first and it carries a whole different set of connotations with it," said University of Washington communications professor Kathleen Fearn-Banks. "People who don't follow basketball or the NBA tend to know who the top players are and who's No. 1.

"Winning is important. There's nothing like success. Being No. 1 is a different kind of success. It says you're the best in your field and advertisers want to be affiliated with that. After No. 1, everything else is a harder sell."

In a league littered with superstars who hawk everything from athletic shoes to bubble gum, the 18-year-old Durant is not only a basketball wunderkind, he's also the brightest pitchman prospect to come along since the NBA produced Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and James in 2003.

The past three drafts have supplied the NBA with a steady diet of basketball talent, but Madison Avenue ad executives have found it impossible to make household names out guys like Dwight Howard, Andrew Bogut and Andrea Bargnani.

Durant and his agent, Aaron Goodwin, aim to change a disappointing trend.

There's a very good chance Durant lands in Seattle, but before Portland makes its choice, he's going to choose between Nike and Adidas and he's expected to reach an agreement in excess of $60 million with one of the shoe and apparel makers.

On Friday, Nike announced a multi-year deal with Oden that is believed to be in the range of $12 million not including bonuses. Industry insiders said that won't preclude the Beaverton, Ore.-based company from pursuing Durant. Last month, he signed his first endorsement deal with Upper Deck trading card company for $5.5 million, and sources say he has as many as four deals pending.

Goodwin, who lives in Oakland and runs Seattle-based Goodwin Sports Management with his twin brother Eric, declined interviews until after the draft.

"It helps him [Durant] because Aaron's biggest client was LeBron, and he obviously learned a lot from that experience," said Paul Swangard, managing director of Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. "Obviously with LeBron, he falls into a different category than Oden and Durant just because when they start showing high-school games on TV like they did with LeBron, then you know LeBron is in a different stratosphere than everyone else.

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"Still, what transfers are lessons like the importance of lasting partnerships. Even though his relationship with LeBron didn't pan out, it's important for agents to make long-term decisions that's in the best interest of their clients and not the agent."

Before severing ties in 2005, Goodwin brokered $124 million in endorsement deals with Nike ($90 million), Coca-Cola ($21 million), Upper Deck ($8.5 million) and Bubblicious ($5 million) for the Cleveland Cavaliers star.

"In building LeBron's brand, I think the one thing that jumps out at you is the less-is-more concept," Swangard said. "Partnering with a few key people early on helps you create long-term partnerships as you build your own brand. You want to associate with those brands that are authentic to who you are. If it's not true to who you are, then you're working against why endorsements work. It's about sharing brand equities.

"Find brands that really speak to who you want to become. You want to align yourself with brands that are almost reciprocal in their endorsements back on you. He's been interested in a mid-priced shoe line. That will speak to a different audience."

Durant, who grew up in Suitland, Md., near the nation's capital, recently said he wants to endorse a basketball shoe in the $40 to $60 range.

"He seems like a good guy and all of that is important, but a great deal of importance is on the athlete's ability to deliver on the athletic portion," Swangard said. "Performance matters. What also has to be appreciated is can the athlete create that personal charisma. Call it the 'It' factor that resonates with consumers.

"Most observers feel that Durant is a much more marketable prospect for the shoe and apparel company than Oden or anyone else because history suggests that big men aren't as marketable as the smaller guys. When you go to the playground, you don't see kids pretending that they are a 7-1 guy. Kids are always trying be the guy with the flashy moves who makes the last-second shot. And so far, Durant has proven that he can be that guy."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

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