Last night, owners of Barclays Center – and the Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty – Joe and Clara Wu Tsai walked to their sideline seats with a few special guests. Among them was none other than NBA superstar Kevin Durant.
The happy Barclays family was in the building to support the New York Liberty as they hosted the red hot Candace Parker and the Chicago Sky. In addition to cheering on a fellow Brooklyn-based basketball team, Durant might have also been offering support to his newest partner in business.
“I have a pretty good relationship with Kevin. I think that came about just both being out here in Brooklyn and both being hoop junkies and always wanting to talk about basketball,” Ionescu told me after a Liberty practice earlier this month.
Earlier this month, Durant’s company Boardroom announced they partnered with Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu. The 2020 #1 overall pick is playing her first season in New York and what she hopes will be her first complete professional season.
Ionescu is now an ambassador for Durant’s business Thirty Five Ventures and its sports business media network Boardroom. According to a recent study, Ionescu was the most featured WNBA player in 2020 despite only playing 2.5 games for New York. She has also landed a Nike sponsorship and been featured in various national commercial campaigns.
“Sabrina is a generational talent on the court, and it’s already clear that she moves different in the business world as well. We’re excited to build something special together with Boardroom and beyond,” said Durant in the press release.
The strategic alliance will give Boardroom Ionescu a supportive network as she navigates through her business portfolio. She will also help build a vision for the future of the company. In return, Boardroom will turn their inside look into Ionescu’s business interests into unique content. What it isn’t, Thirty Five Ventures co-founder and Boardroom CEO Rick Kleiman told me, is a passive sponsorship.
“I was very clear with her on that if she didn’t want to be a part of what we were doing, if she didn’t gravitate towards it, no harm, no foul,” said Kleiman in our phone interview. The terms “ambassador” and “strategic alliance” have a variety of meanings in business, but for Boardroom, they both require genuine engagement. Upon meeting Ionescu, any doubts that she was a doer died on the spot.
“There was an incredible confidence that I had very rarely seen in anybody but the elite athletes, executives, and founders that I had met. And when I spoke to her about her business, when I spoke to her about things that she had already encountered in the six months of being a professional, there was no one I had ever spoken to that embodied what we were building more.”
The only requirement was the Ionescu be ready to work and open to share. She will be compensated for her ambassadorship and subsequent content created from the strategic alliance. Additionally, Kleiman hopes she will feel supported in business, basketball, and life. Ionescu sees it that way as well.
“Everything Kevin and Rick are doing in the business world is something that I thought that I could use and learn from. Especially being so young in this league, I thought it would give me a head start on what I want to do with my future. Where I want to give back, where I want to invest, and align my brand with,” said Ionescu.
Sabrina was the first athlete Durant and Kleiman reached out to for this type of alliance. Hopefully, she won’t be the last.
In the past, Durant and Kleiman have partnered with Tina Charles on a video series and Clubhouse activations with women’s basketball players and personalities Swin Cash, LaChina Robinson, A’ja Wilson, Adia Barnes, and Ari Chambers.