Golden board: Durant, Bird, Azzi helping lead USA Basketball
When Kevin Durant was asked about the notion of him and some other Olympic gold medalists potentially getting seats on USA Basketball’s Board of Directors, he liked the idea.
That is, on one condition: He didn’t want the seats to be honorary. He wanted a real say.
Durant hasn’t decided yet if he’ll play for the U.S. at the FIBA World Cup this summer, and it’s still unknown if he’ll play at the 2024 Paris Olympics — but he’ll be one of the people continuing to shape policy for the governing body for basketball in this country during that span. He’s one of five gold medalists currently serving on USA Basketball’s board, part of a move to give athletes a louder voice and more input now than ever before.
“I love America. I love where I come from,” said Durant, now with the Phoenix Suns after being traded earlier this season by the Brooklyn Nets. “I love that the game has, you know, brought me so much and afforded me so much. I try to represent everybody I grew up with and everybody in our country. So, yeah, it was important to me.”
Combined, the five current and former players who sit on USA Basketball’s 15-person board — Seimone Augustus, Jennifer Azzi, Harrison Barnes, Sue Bird and Durant — have 13 Olympic gold medals, eight FIBA gold medals from World Cups and world championships, and a pile of other honors from their time wearing the red, white and blue.
Past boards have had athlete representatives, but this board is the first in USA Basketball’s history to have so many gold medalists serving at one time.
“To have an Olympic gold medal, at whatever sport, is just the top and anybody around the world knows what that means,” Azzi said. “It’s just elite and it’s special. So, for me, being able to play for USA Basketball in a lot of things prior to being a professional athlete allowed me to play at the highest level for a long period of time. And then just the relationships I made through USA Basketball are unlike anything else.”
Adding the players allowed the board, chaired by retired Gen. Martin E. Dempsey — the 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — to grow from 11 people to 15 people for this four-year cycle. There are some NBA and WNBA executives on the board (NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum among them), along with some leaders in college athletics, a high school sports executive and the CEO of an asset management firm.
But the biggest names are the ones who’ve won the golds.
“When you have Kevin Durant and Sue Bird, among others, who have done everything you can possibly do in terms of accomplishments, gold medals, almost be the faces of their respective teams and now assuming more of a leadership role on a board that I report to, it just speaks volumes about the program itself,” USA Basketball men’s national team managing director Grant Hill said. “Kevin and Sue are two of the best, two of the most-respected players, individuals who have influenced an entire generation — their peers and the players who will follow them. And they’re still engaged, and still want to be a part of it. That’s incredible and that’s of tremendous value.”
Bird just retired from playing. In Durant’s case, more golds aren’t out of the question.
If he wants to play this summer at the World Cup, or at the Paris Olympics next year, there’s no way USA Basketball would object. Some players already have expressed interest in playing this summer; others like Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard have said they may want to play in Paris next year.
Durant is one of only two three-time men's Olympic gold medalists for the U.S.; Carmelo Anthony is the other.
“I haven’t thought about this summer too much yet,” Durant said. “We’ll see. We’ll see what happens.”
None of the players-turned-board-members see their role as a burden. They want to stay involved, whether on the court or off.
There typically is one in-person meeting in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for the board each year and other top federation executives like CEO Jim Tooley, men’s national team director Sean Ford and women’s national team director Briana Weiss, with plenty of other communication as needed.
“It’s a real privilege,” Azzi said. “When Jim Tooley asked me, he said he wanted me to consider it. And I said, ‘Consider it?’ I was in right away. It’s an honor.”
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Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press