Culture of Hoops

BMF Exclusive: ‘The Backpack Baller’ (Part 2 Interview)

Recently, we at Baller Mind Frame gave you a BMF Exclusive look at one of the more intriguing books about one of the game’s best players today and already in the sport’s history, Kevin Durant. Titled The Backpack Baller, it’s an all-encompassing tome that prominently features Durant as the center of its workings. A crowd-funded project on Kickstarter, it’s still looking for support to help come to life, and today we bring you another BMF Exclusive tidbit for your eyes to see — an interview with the book’s creator and author, Brad Graham. Check game below.

Baller Mind Frame: Of all superstars in the NBA, what was it about Kevin Durant that made you want to creatively dedicate an entire book to him?

Brad Graham: Ever since I started watching the NBA, small forwards have just interested me the most. While other players have had their turn on my wish list, I always seem to build my fantasy or video game roster around a classic small forward.

For me, it started with Dominique Wilkins, transferred over to Kevin Garnett, then T-Mac and Paul Pierce, and in 2006, I was introduced to Kevin Durant and I immediately knew he was one to watch.

That’s the basketball fan side of it, but as far as the visual, or rather, the aesthetics goes, K.D. is so alien-like. His limbs are so exaggerated, his frame so skeletal (until recent) and yet his coordination is superb and his play is so smooth, his motion so fluid. As any hoop head knows, we’ve had George Gervin and Larry Bird, but never before have we seen a combination of the two, that’s what K.D. offers, at least as far as boiling down his offensive impact. Now he has that killer handle too, so…

I knew he’d make for a quality read and his voyage could sustain its own book (based on his first 25 years), because ever since he announce it was his turn (at Texas), he has been history in the making ever since. He might not get the hardware or headlines like LeBron James does, but his significance isn’t far removed. That was part of the motivation for the book’s content, to uncover his historical placing while explaining how we ended up with an alien hiding in plain sight.

So, in your estimations, given Durant’s profile as a basketball player, what does The Basketball Baller do for the reader, and what does it do for Durant?

For K.D., the book gives him a tangible and reliable document he can someday show his grandchildren. It’s so his family can enjoy and it’s the kind of cool item that he can sign wherever he goes, be it with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Team USA, NIKE, etc., or at any event, camp, product launch, etc. the campaign, should it be successful, will also mean K.D. can take the book to Skullcandy and have them package it up with a set of headphones, or take it to NIKE and form a collector’s box with book, tee, backpack and sneakers…or run a Gatorade collab and people who send in five bottle labels get a book. Point being, there are business opportunities which could be explored in addition to having the coolest-looking NBA book on the market. From an ego standpoint, it also puts K.D. ahead of Kobe and LeBron, if that matters to him. So few people make a large enough impact to warrant a book and because K.D. qualifies (as a captain of industry), I think he deserves to have a timeless tome to go along with YouTube clips and everything else.

Fans? Well, they’re the real winners here, because they get to see the love, dedication, and sweat which has gone into Kevin’s journey. So many have tried to turn themselves from outsider to outstanding generational talent, but Kevin has succeeded where so many other have failed. He could’ve been Glenn Robinson or Tim Thomas and yet he’s already in conversation with the positional greats. Readers will have a definitive guide that operates like a graphic novel origin story while dually being treated to attractive spreads and tasty infographics (in conjunction with easy to enjoy magazine style editorial pieces).

What The Backpack Baller also does is bring NBA books into the 21st century and by default, Kevin is the perfect candidate to carry the torch. He has already done it on so many levels, why not in the literary sphere as well?

Most books aren’t The Backpack Baller — by that, I mean, that it’s visually-stimulating, more so than most books you find these days. What was the purpose in making this project as much about the eyes as it is about the word-driven imagination?

Part of it is my design background, I majored in graphic design at university and have art-directed NBA-based magazines for eight years now, so constructing a long form text with the visuals in mind was the only way I could see it working. That leads nicely into my next point which is I needed The Backpack Baller to be significantly different from other sports and NBA books currently on the market. Plus, thanks to the evolution of the internet and with Adobe software becoming more accessible, the way we all consume information has changed. We’re visual creatures — draw people in with the design fundamentals and they’re more than likely going to pay attention to the text. Plus, it was decided early on that the best way to get Kevin Durant and potential publishers interested was to try and produce a book unlike any other, one that’s as unique and unconventional as the player on which it’s based.

With what I know about it, it’s pretty content-heavy – did you have any assistance with the book, from Durant himself or anyone else directly?

It is content-heavy, (but) I did want people to feel like they were purchasing a substantive book (that they could return to and not actually read in one sitting). Durant read an early draft of the book’s manuscript back in March. I met with him after a Thunder training session and went over the content. I informed him of the list of people I’d spoken with (over the years) to help with background. As a ball player and not an author, K.D. was naturally overwhelmed at first, seemed pleasantly surprised by the research included and after our chat, I gave K.D. the opportunity to make any copy changes he wanted to see happen. I also forwarded additional drafts and the completed designs for approval, allowing for changes at every step. I knew I was onto a winner when I’d receive the same response from K.D., which was basically him saying, “Cool, I’ll give it a look” and never being asked to remove anything or cease production.

Brian Duff, who I started working with while editor-in-chief at Handle magazine is the book’s editor. He’s a real editorial surgeon and an NBA fan to boot. He always provides objective insight, always explains his edits and only ever puts what’s best for the end reader at the top of the checklist. Having someone who’s classically trained, who has worked in communications and who is as gifted as writer as I’ve worked with, meant the book was in good hands. When writing the content, I always think about whether or not Brian and dedicated NBA fans would be impressed. Once that happens to be the case, everything else becomes much easier.

Very cool about getting KD’s approval! Did Nike give you an assist at all as well?

Yeah, K.D. has been very approachable throughout, that alone has allowed this book to advance quite rapidly and while it hasn’t been published yet, it certainly wouldn’t be at this stage without the NBA and the Thunder staff doing what they can to assist with access.

Nike’s a funny one, because they obviously have a lot to gain from this book in terms of product celebration (with Kevin’s signature line) and because the more visible K.D. is, the better it is for the Swoosh. Plus, they specialize in storytelling, and one would imagine that they would want this in their files, but they’re notorious for being ultra-selective (when it comes to collaborations), so who knows what’ll happen in 2014. I’m sure if Kevin expressed an interest in having them support or fund the book, it would happen, but that’s an executive decision I’m not a consultant for. Nike certainly knows about the book, I’ve actually emailed people in the Basketball and senior divisions and they’ve suggestions from time to time but they’re never expressed a desire to have their stamp on it. Nike Basketball’s U.S. brand director knows about the book and I’m optimistic that if given the opportunity, I could convince him to entertain a partnership.

Speaking about The Backpack Baller’s availability, can you tell us when it is due out and how can readers can get this wonderful project? Tell us all you can about the dynamics for this book being released.

For the next 48 hours, or until around 2am on January 1, people can pledge their support via the book’s Kickstarter page: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/281226336/the-backpack-baller?ref=live — all they’ll need to do is hit the big green button that says “Back This Project”, then select the reward option that suits their budget…and by doing so, they’ll have helped to bring this book one step closer to becoming a printed reality.

The most exciting reward option is the mid-level $35 deal — a price point that’s no accident. Backers will not only secure themselves a 250-page hard cover, First Edition copy of the book, they also get free shipping inside the US, so the tangible book could be at their door around All-Star Weekend, should the predetermined funding target be reached before the window closes.

And here’s the real kicker: those who back this project via Kickstarter will be the first on the planet with the book. The other major incentive Brian and I devised was a “Kevin’s Army” feature to all who support the book via Kickstarter. This means that any backer will get their name and hometown printed in the book, so K.D. will know exactly who his biggest supporters are.

Unfortunately, that particular “Kevin’s Army” option may not be available to K.D die-hard or NBA-heads if the Kickstarter funding target isn’t reached. In the event that happens, all who have pledged will be refunded their money and I’ll have to explore another avenue to get this book published. It could be with Nike or another of Kevin’s corporate partners. It might be independently published with K.D.’s endorsement, or without. I’ll think about what to do in 2014, but for now, there’s still (a little bit of time) to rally the troops to help make this book happen.

The other thing I’ll add is, there are no ads to offset the costs, so the retail price point has been set to ensure all creative, custom printing, binding, and distribution expenses are cover. And rather than chase six small independent or brand supports, I’d much rather to one big supporter who believes in my vision of the product. It started out as being, “Why get one backer for $35K when we can locate 1000 backers through social media and have them pledge $35 each, and we’ll throw in a first edition book for their troubles?”

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