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Durant executive produces basketball drama ‘Swagger’

Based loosely off of Kevin Durant's life, 'Swagger' is a story about a teenage basketball player's rise to stardom.

Long before the Kia MVP, NBA championships and All-Star Game appearances, Player of the Year awards at the University of Texas and being chosen as a McDonald’s All-American at Montrose Christian, Kevin Durant spent countless hours at Seat Pleasant Activity Center in Maryland.

From the time he was around eight years old through his teenage years, Durant practically lived at the Rec — as it is affectionally known — perfecting the dribbling, passing and shooting that laid the foundation for his future Hall of Fame career.

So, it makes sense that in “Swagger”, a sports drama series on Apple TV+ loosely based on Durant’s childhood, a lot of teachable moments about way more than hoops happen inside a gym.

“The rec center was a place that really felt like home to me, and it was where I really started to appreciate how much I loved the game of basketball and what it could do for me as a person,” said Durant, who is an executive producer of “Swagger”. “All kids should have a place in their community like that.”

Using Durant’s life as inspiration, “Swagger” tells the story of Jace Carson, a highly touted 14-year-old Maryland basketball prospect who has to deal with a lot more than just opposing teams. It takes a deep dive into the hardcore world of youth basketball through the player’s and parent’s eyes and also looks at the role of AAU coaches, shoe executives and social media.

“The concept for ‘Swagger’ was something myself and Rich Kleiman came up with and then brought to Brian Grazer at Imagine,” Durant said. “From there, we worked closely with Reggie Rock Bythewood on making sure the experiences that these kids go through during the show feel very real and authentic to what’s happening in AAU basketball.”

“Swagger” is directed by Bythewood and stars Isaiah Hill, who is making his acting debut as Jace. O’Shea Jackson, Jr. plays Ike Edwards, a former high school legend who is now the coach of “Swagger”.

“Isaiah is a really special actor and a huge part of what makes the show great,” Durant said. “He also does an incredible job of making the basketball scenes feel very real, which is hard to do. I think he has a long career ahead of him.”

The amount of pressures and scrutiny these teens deal with on and off the court is at times overwhelming, but Bythewood does an excellent job of working current events into the series. “Swagger” touched on police brutality, racism, sexual assault by a coach, the pandemic, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

“Reggie and his team really did a great job of integrating everything that happened in the world in 2020 into the show, and I think it was necessary because sports don’t exist in a vacuum,” Durant said. “All the pressures that athletes face in the sports world, they’re doing so on top of whatever is going on in our society, and you can’t separate those things.”

Hill, who stands 6-foot-4 and was a standout high school player in New Jersey, said he was inspired by Durant.

“Me and Kevin had some interactions,” said Hill, who is 19 years old. “We’ve got on some Zoom calls. He was nursing an injury as soon as we started shooting so he couldn’t really make it to set for a while. He was still reaching out. He was texting me and that was cool as hell. He followed me on Instagram later, but when we got on the phone, he was telling me about knowledge of self and confidence and how he was pushing himself to make the comeback he has made. That was motivating enough for me, to bring that spirit back to set and having to be perfect in a way.”

Although Hill was an acting novice, he was more than confident when it came to the actual basketball scenes.

“Now O’Shea is a hell of a competitor,” Hill said. “I played him, because you know, we had to practice, so we had to really play. He’s not too much of a liability. If we had to go run fives, I’d take O’Shea on my team. He is going to knock some 3s down. He’s not beating me though, I’m scorching him. He knows that.”

Kleiman, who is Durant’s manager and business partner, is pleased with how “Swagger” turned out.

“Kevin and I spoke to the cast throughout the process,” said Kleiman, who is one of Swagger’s executive producers. “While talking to the writers and producers, Kevin told so many stories to Reggie over the years to give him bits and pieces of content he could fill into the characters.

“We tried to do something that is unique and special, but something we could take pride in. To see something like this, inspired by Kevin’s rec center after something we talked about five or six years ago in the lobby of a hotel, is pretty cool.”