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Why Kevin Durant could be enticed to join the Miami Heat

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Kevin Durant is listed as the sixth most famous athlete in the world, while Russell Westbrook has seen a recent surge in popularity. Besides, Durant has named his new sneaker the "Nike KD9 Pre-Heat."

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Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

The common perception of Kevin Durant, who is listed as the sixth most famous athlete in the world by ESPN, as the face of the Oklahoma City Thunder could be in danger if the official NBA gear site, fanatics, is any sign of popularity. On the fanatics home page, their Top NBA Apparel list is shown below.

  • Kobe Bryant Jerseys
  • NBA Playoffs Gear
  • Golden State Warriors Gear
  • LeBron James Gear
  • Russell Westbrook Jerseys
  • NBA Western Conference Champs Gear
  • NBA Eastern Conference Champs Gear

Kevin Durant's name is noticeably missing, while Russell Westbrook is the only Thunder player on it. The recent attention Westbrook has received about his impeccable fashion sense (#2 best-dressed athlete) and numerous sightings in TV commercials, could have Durant consider joining another team to remain the #1 option and justify the $300 million Nike has invested in him to win a championship.

Among top NBA jersey sales in the fanatics site, not a single Miami Heat jersey is among the top-selling 100. Dwyane Wade is the only active Heat player in top 400, i.e. Chris Bosh, Hassan Whiteside, Luol Deng, Goran Dragic, etc. do not have a fan base outside Miami. The pairing of a key NIKE spokesman in Durant, together with the Heat, would not be about rings, but having NIKE aboard the Heat bandwagon when NIKE becomes the official supplier of NBA uniforms in 2017-18.

"NIKE has a rich history of innovating and leading from the front, and has supported some of the greatest former and current NBA and WNBA players. The company has been a global marketing partner of the NBA since 1992 and expands its rights over eight years under the new agreement, where NIKE will become the first NBA apparel partner to have its logo appear on NBA uniforms. NIKE will also have the global rights to design and manufacture authentic and Swingman jerseys as well as oncourt warm-ups and shooting shirts."

The Heat would pay Durant a max salary to get an influencial athlete, but so will every other NBA squad, who think they have a chance to land him. In Miami though, Durant would pair up with an All-Star, in Wade, who has a proven history of being able to co-exist with superstars (Shaq and LeBron) on his teams.

Durant and Westbrook, both born in 1988, have shared the stage in OKC throughout their careers. Wade, born in 1982, could let the Heat become Kevin Durant's team, strange as that seems to local fans, while Durant is still in his prime.

The Heat need a top-ten superstar for promotional and championship reasons to succeed Wade, while Durant needs a place like Miami, which features a strong supporting cast and marketing savvy, to regain his place in apparel sales and win his first championship.

Prior to the Golden State Warriors emergence on the national stage in 2015 and 2016, Wade's Miami Heat teams played in the top 7 of the 8 most watched NBA non-Finals games on cable TV. Figures released by SportsMediaWatch noted Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals had the highest ratings ever for a non-Finals game watched by a cable TV audience and broke the Heat's hold on the top four spots. Heat games still dominate the cable ratings over the last 14 years.

Most-Watched NBA Games

(Excluding NBA Finals since NBC lost rights in 2002)

1 2016 Thunder/Warriors TNT 8.8 15.90M
2 2012 Celtics/Heat ESPN 7.7 13.35M
3 2004 Heat/Lakers ABC 7.3 13.18M
4 2010 Heat/Lakers ABC 6.4 13.11M
5 2013 Pacers/Heat TNT 7.1 11.57M
6 2015 Cavaliers/Warriors ABC 5.7 11.17M
7 2011 Heat/Bulls TNT 6.2 11.11M
8 2012 Heat/Celtics ESPN 6.8 11.07M
9 2012 Heat/Celtics ESPN 6.8 11.07M
10 2011 Bulls/Lakers ABC 5.6 11.01M

The chances of the Thunder letting Durant escape Oklahoma City seem virtually non-existent, considering his high global profile and the goodwill he has built up there over the years there. However the recent surge of media attention drawn to Westbrook has diluted Durant's popularity among NBA fans. Durant still remains an international icon (Westbrook is 48th in the ESPN list).

Similar to how the Warriors teammates all work together for the good of the team, Pat Riley could offer Durant a Stephen Curry type of role in Miami during Durant's prime years. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, etc. could be divas on other teams, but defer to Curry because he casts a long enough shadow to help others achieve their goals.

Durant gives Riley a highly visible and coveted name to promote the franchise, as the Wade era slowly winds down its run in South Florida. Last season the Heat were one player away from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. As other teams improve through the draft, the Heat also need to upgrade just to remain competitive for next season.

Coincidentally, Durant debuted his new line of sneakers, Nike KD9 Pre-Heat, with a name that could prove to be clairvoyant. Nike's $300 million deal with Durant gives them  a huge stake in his future, according to Bill Simmons.

"In February 2014, Durant and LeBron had the best-selling shoes among all NBA players. Two years later, it’s all about Under Armour (Curry) vs. Nike (LeBron and Jordan Brand); if you surf around, you can’t find Durant in any story about top-selling NBA sneakers. His representatives at Roc Nation know it; so does Nike. And if you think they haven’t mentioned this to him, repeatedly, you’re bonkers. It helps their cause that Durant doesn’t just want to be one of the greatest; he wants to be THE greatest. He’s as competitive as any of these guys."

"You might remember LeBron successfully reinventing himself in Miami in 2010, then again in Cleveland in 2014. There’s something to be said for a fresh start — it’s a selling point, a fresh narrative that everyone can pound into the ground. Durant returning to OKC won’t help Nike in its holy war against Under Armour unless he wins a title. But Durant building his own Eastern contender in Miami, Boston or Washington..."

The Street reports Nike stock dropped 10% this year due to slower sales of sneakers, including its marquee trio of NBA stars, of whom only Durant is in his prime. Kobe Bryant has retired and LeBron James is slowly taking a backseat to Under Armour's Curry. Is Nike naming KD9 "Pre Heat" a sign of the future to fend off UA's challenge?

Yet Nike's stock barely reacted when Foot Locker sales of basketball sneakers were again weak and fell, due mostly to tepid sales of Nike's LeBron, Kevin Durant and Kobe lines. The coming Kevin Durant shoe will launch on June 20 about $30 cheaper than the prior iteration. When was the last time Nike adjusted the price down for a basketball sneaker endorsed by a top NBA star?"