How Derek Jeter, Kobe Bryant–and Now Kevin Durant–Achieved 1 Thing Fans Never Thought They Could

With The Players’ Tribune, both star athletes and lesser-knowns are taking control of their stories.

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BY Bill Murphy Jr. - 04 Jul 2016

Big news in the NBA this week. Even bigger news about where it broke.

If you're a fan, you probably already know that Kevin Durant, star of the Oklahoma City Thunder, announced he's signing with the Golden State Warriors--likely creating an unbeatable team.

But they way Durant made the announcement is the real story: He's the latest in a series of big sports stars to control the timing and wording of their big news by writing it themselves on a website called The Players' Tribune.

In so doing, he becomes the latest top professional athlete to own his story in a way that most fans would have thought impossible just a few years ago.

Launched in late 2014 by New York Yankees great Derek Jeter, TPT as it's sometimes known, is a powerful niche media property, with $18 million in investment capital, and 3.1 million unique visitors a month (as of last November). Here's TPT by the numbers:

1. The players control their stories, and their news

Kobe Bryant, who just so happens to be an investor in TPT, announced his retirement on the site last November. He nearly broke the site, with more than 1 million visitors in an hour.

Durant is heavily involved too--almost certainly an investor, although that's not publicly acknowledged, exactly. However, he was named TPT's deputy publisher last year however, and brought in at least one of its advertisers. In any event, contrast his well-received free agency announcement with the widely panned spectacle LeBron James created with ESPN in 2010 (when he announced he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat).

2. Their editorial titles are "tongue in cheek"

Jeter is the publisher. Durant is his deputy. Professional athletes like Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, Blake Griffin of the LA Clippers, Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Danica Patrick of NASCAR are all identified as "senior editors."

"These titles are hilarious," a reporter for NFL Network tweeted, and TPT's president, Jaymee Messler later acknowledged: "The titles are meant to be a little bit tongue in cheek ... meant to be fun. We don't take ourselves that seriously."

(USA Today put together an editorial chart for TPT last autumn; you can find it here.)

3. The site is heavily ghostwritten

While some of the site's writer-athletes are adamant that they actually wrote the words under their bylines, others are in fact ghostwritten by anonymous journalists who are employed by TPT directly. (Not that there's anything wrong with ghostwriting--something I've done for many clients myself!)

Editorial director Gary Hoenig described the process as including a long interview by a TPT journalist, which is then transcribed and crafted into a first-person story that the athlete-subject can sign off on or edit, according to Sports Business Daily.

4. They've broken some serious news

Besides Bryant's retirement, NBA star Steve Nash also used the site as a platform to declare he would retire, as did David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox. Tiger Woods used it to rebut an article by a Golf Digest writer.

Beyond the breaking news however, there are some really intriguing stories about both superstars and players you've never heard of. My suggestions: this non-retirement one by Boston's Ortiz, or this one by retired NHL player Ryan Whitney about playing in the Russian hockey league, or Layshia Clarendon's story of what it's like to be a black, gay, female, non-cisgender, Christian player in the WNBA.

5. There's a lot of money in it

It's easy to forget that it wasn't that long ago that players saw very little of the true wealth that their performances created. Obviously that's changed over the last 30 years or so, with players signing massive contracts and endorsement deals, and even becoming team owners.

Now, the professional sports industry is projected to be worth $73.5 billion in a few years. And as always, the number-one most marketable asset that athletes have is their story, and their ability to connect directly to the fans who buy tickets, get marketed to, and pay for television packages.

One website won't change the sports world, but for the first time, it means the athletes truly get to control their stories.


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