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Durant investment in the Philadelphia Union about more than hardware

The partnership between Durant, Thirty Five Ventures and the Union may produce more off than field to grow the club and impact the local community than on it for the Philadelphia Union

NBA: Miami Heat at Brooklyn Nets Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

The announcement that Kevin Durant bought a stake in the Philadelphia Union was not a surprise to diehard Union fans. At this rate in the Union history, and really in the Philadelphia sports realm, news is almost never perceived as universally good. When pictures of Kevin Durant at the Union’s campus surfaced in December, there was a buzz around the Union. It was short-lived and mostly short-sighted.

My first thoughts? “I wonder how much money he’ll invest into the roster.” Even at the time I was not concerned about anything other than how the roster would be impacted by a high profile investor like Kevin Durant. Even less thought of was why the New York Nets forward would want to invest in the Union.

Not considered, or even known about Durant, was the work that his company and charity, Thirty Five Ventures and the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation, respectively. At face value, the initial thought by myself and likely many other Union fans was, “Ok sure whatever.”

Two weeks ago, it was rumored that the Union and Kevin Durant had come to an agreement for Durant to purchase 1%-5% of the Philadelphia Union. The story was about how he would join a growing list (of now a staggering three) professional athletes to have invested in an MLS team. Pretty mundane and given the percentage of the stake, probably inconsequential to the overall success of the Philadelphia Union. Could Durant lure a superstar player to the newly designated Subaru Park?

Probably not. It is the Union after all. We’re not exactly Los Angeles or Miami. The banks of the Delaware River don’t exactly compare to destinations like the Venice Boardwalk or South Beach.

After the Union officially announced their decision yesterday, how could I have possibly been so short-sighted?

The primary message from the official statement released by the Philadelphia Union hardly mentions team success. Even in an exclusive interview with ESPN, it would appear Kevin Durant isn’t as excited about the idea of helping lead the Union to lifting their franchise’s first hardware as he is about helping the Union positively develop their relationship with the city of Chester.

The Union’s relationship with the City of Chester has been fraught with false promises and disconnect. Previously, the upper management of the Philadelphia Union would cower from the responsibilities they claimed to take when they announced the project to build a stadium in Chester. Now it seems they’ve finally turned a corner by bringing in an investor who has dedicated a business portfolio to include developing communities. That comes with a ringing endorsement from Durant:

“[The Union], they broke everything down, from what they wanted to do in the community, to the campus that they want to build in Chester, how they want to impact the youth leagues even more, and putting it all back in a community that is predominantly black…It just made sense.”

The Union have even begun noting their own shortfalls when it comes to fulfilling their promises, with Union owner Jay Sugarman acknowledging that they’ve struggled in having a positive economic impact for the city. The answer is no longer to hide in the shadows, continue to open its doors to fans from the surrounding suburbs, and ignore the problem at hand. The time has come to step up and be apart of the change you want to see.

By welcoming in Kevin Durant, the Philadelphia Union have shown intent to build something great in Chester, but no longer at the expense of its citizens. Rather, they want to give back to the community that had no real choice but to let them set up shop. The Union have recognized that it’s time to make meaningful change and they’ve brought in an investor who prides himself with making that change.

It might all be fluff and filler at this point. Words are just words and until progress is made with tangible results. The Union will never be let off the hook. But it is time to acknowledge that the Philadelphia Union have made a massive showcase of their intent to build something better.

As Union fans, let’s encourage that change and look forward to the progress that we hope to see.