Q+A: Brad Graham, Author/Designer of The Backpack Baller

TheBackpackBaller_BookTeaserby Habeeba Husain / @HabeebaHusain

Four-time NBA All-Star, four-time All-NBA First Team, three-time NBA scoring champ, Olympic gold medalist, 25 years young. There’s more, but really, need I go on?

We all know his name, and we all watch his game: Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

After seeing Durant play at Madison Square Garden back in 2006, author/graphic designer/hoophead Brad Graham from Sydney, Australia embarked on a project—The Backpack Baller. If you picked up SLAM 174, you got a glimpse of this book about Kevin Durant and his journey so far.

SLAM caught up with Graham about his book and the Kickstarter campaign (closing December 31) that’ll take care of the final steps in making The Backpack Baller a reality for KD fans everywhere.

SLAM: So I’m going to jump back in time to start off. What got you interested in graphic design?

Brad Graham: I was an illustrator from a very young age. Once high school had finished, I was forced to look at what career avenue I wanted to take. I studied fine arts for two years and didn’t really see how that was going to be able to provide an income, given that a lot of money that you make through that is either freelancing or government funds based on proposals and what not you send. I wanted to turn what felt like a natural skill in illustration into some sort of ability to make money off something I really enjoyed. I used that to be the springboard into university.

SLAM: How about basketball?

BG: It was in the later stages of eighth grade that I had stopped spending my lunchtimes playing soccer and started to migrate to the basketball courts. Some of the people I started spending more time with were very into the game.

SLAM: What made you want to combine your graphic design background and love of basketball into The Backpack Baller, which you describe as a coffee-table book?

BG: I think [editor Brian Duff’s term “coffee-table book”] is more just the notion that if you have a copy of this book, it’s the sort of thing you can leave lying around, and whoever is enjoying the entertainment at whichever house they’re at will flip through it. It’s almost a communal type of experience. Ideally, what we’re trying to accomplish with this is it becomes something not only fans but people who are just casual followers of the game want to thumb through.

The merging of the two passions happened once I’d gotten my first job out of university at an independent publishing house. I worked for a publisher named Dov Kornits. He had a movie magazine called Filmink, and I was a junior designer for him. After being employed by him for a while, 12 months I think it was, I preached the idea to him to start a national basketball publication in Australia primarily because we didn’t have one, and secondly because Andrew Bogut had just been drafted first overall and the timing just felt right.

I was then elevated to the position of art director and editor-in-chief of that publication, which I ran for four-and-a-half years. During that time of running that magazine which was titled Handle, I was traveling to the U.S. frequently attending NBA games, All-Star Weekends, and that’s how I discovered Kevin Durant. Being in New York City, and seeing the University of Texas play at Madison Square Garden, it was all part of this journey for me to eventually develop the skills necessary both from a design standpoint creatively and from an editorial standpoint.

SLAM: What can readers expect to see from page to page?

BG: As it stands, there’s 16 chapters that mark the different stages that are significant to Kevin’s journey and each one is either a very visually centric piece, might include a bunch of stats and infographics and large type elements, or ultimately it’s an essay or magazine-style feature. Kevin’s unconventional. His journey’s unconventional and I felt it was important to have a book that, in essence, was actually an unconventional book. There is an overarching theme, and that is let Kevin and his personality and ultimately his journey be the thing that decides what this product is going to look like.

SLAM: Why Kevin Durant and why now?

BG: I think he’s at a point where we can actually step back and appreciate the journey he’s gone on, and I don’t think he’s gonna fall off any time soon. I don’t think he’s a one hit wonder, and so this book is ideally a part of his origin story. It is a Volume One in essence, but it is an all-encompassing way to look at what he did over his first 25 years.

SLAM: He’s a pretty humble guy, Kevin Durant. How did he react to all this?

BG: Back in March of this year he happened to be in New York. The Thunder were playing the Knicks, and after the team shoot around, I sat down with him and I just had the manuscript, the pages themselves. Although they were on their way to being designed, I didn’t have some of the images that I was still securing the rights to in order to show him the true representation of what the book’s final form would be. So what I did was printed it out, just the text. He had a hundred-page document of straight text. He kind of looked at me puzzled. His first question was, “Is this whole thing about me?”

SLAM: What’s been your favorite part of working on this project? 

BG: A matter of selecting which bits of information, which little gems, would be included. Then working with the book’s editor on extracting what key statistical pieces we were then going to reshape into the infographcis and ultimately, just building the book. I’ve never built a house, I’m not a handyman, but I imagine the same satisfaction an architect gets from designing…or a builder gets from seeing a finely crafted house being built from the ground up. In many ways, that’s the attitude I had with this—that once we had the blueprint, we then went ahead and built the house and part of the fun was picking out the furniture. Decorating the book with the images and designing the layouts. I guess any designer or any person with an arts background will always tell you there’s nothing better than sitting down with a blank canvas because you can ultimately shape it in any way you see fit.

SLAM: What are the remaining steps?

BG: The remaining step now is we just need to get the money together through Kickstarter in order to reach our funding target, so we can actually go back and attain all the images we need to make this book the best possible product it can be. We’ve got an agreement with Getty Images where we can actually use the images for previewing purposes, but we don’t have the rights to publish them in print yet. There’s the printing. There’s the binding. There’s the distribution. This is a hardcover, 250-page first edition book with custom printing, quality paper stock, and everything about it will make it a true collector’s item. The furniture’s there. The house is built. It’s ready to be lived in, but it’s the little extras that are going to help decorate it to make it that much more satisfying or rewarding for both the casual and die hard consumer.

To help fund Brad Graham’s The Backpack Baller, check out his Kickstarter page before December 31.