When Kevin Love declared for the NBA Draft in April 2008, I shook my head. Like Tyler Hansbrough, who was dominating college basketball at the time, I thought of Love as only a college player. He didn’t have what it would take to muster a valid career in the NBA. He would average 10 and 5 for a few years, find himself caught in the middle of a packaged three team deal, then slink to the end of the bench on a non-contender and disappear, never to be seen or heard from again.
Too pudgy. Lacks athleticism and lateral quickness. Plays below the rim. Can’t get up and down the court.
Justified by watching tape of the UCLA Bruins, these were all legitimate knocks on Love’s game.
Sure, he had plenty of strengths to match: great hands, developed post moves and footwork, nice passer, uncanny rebounder, and can step behind the arc and knock down some treys, etc.; but these strengths would be overshadowed and could not compensate for the obvious holes in his game.
Never mind that Love scored in double figures in all 39 games he played as a frosh at UCLA, and that 23 of those games consisted of notching a double-double.
The NBA is fast and Love is slow.
But I was wrong. Kevin Love just plays basketball. That’s what he does. He plays the game. He knows the game. Fundamentals may be missing in much of today’s NBA players, but not in Kevin Love; and, while I’m not equating Love with Larry Bird—he’s no Larry Bird by any stretch of the imagination—the supposed weaknesses and what the critics said about the Indiana St. Sycamore in 1978 parallel.
Despite carrying 10 lbs. of concrete in each Converse, Larry Bird still figured out how to get from Point A to Point B in the same amount of time as James Worthy; so, too, has Love honed his craft to not only recompense for his weaknesses, but to mask them almost entirely with his ridiculously high basketball IQ.
“Plays below the rim,” says the critics. With 90% of rebounds snatched below the iron anyway, who needs hops when you have position? Not last year’s rebounding leader with 15.2 per game.
I doubted Love’s ability in much the way Stephen A. Smith doubted Tim Tebow all season long. Although I was watching an elite athlete do his thing before my very eyes, I still couldn’t believe it. Has to be a fluke. Must be a fluke.
Then, on November 12, 2010, Love became the 19th player in NBA history—the first since 1982 (Moses Malone)—to record a “30-30” game, pulling down 31 rebounds to match his 31 points. Then there was that whole double-double streak of 53 consecutive games, the longest streak since the NBA-ABA merger of ’76.
‘Tis no fluke.
Said Kevin Love during an interview with ESPN this January: “I believe I’m the best ’4? in the league. I think you have to believe that you’re the best. I think Mohammad Ali even said, ‘I was the greatest before I knew I was.’ I think everybody needs to have that mindset. That’s part of winning the mind game from the very start. You have to believe it. You have to hold yourself accountable.”
While it’s debatable that Love is the best PF in the Association (I have to go with Nowitzki myself), what we’re seeing is a bonafide freak of nature in the making—a young man with a chip on his shoulder who is just scratching the surface thus far in his career.
Part of being the best is believing you are and Love, as he quotes Ali, already has this. From the very start, before he ever laced up his shoes and stepped foot on an NBA floor, Love had one-upped his critics.
As the malapropic Yogi Berra once said, “[Sport] is 90% mental, the other half physical.”
Therefore, when a story breaks with the headline “Love’s Buzzer Beater Lifts Wolves,” I am no longer surprised. It’s to be expected. I would be more surprised if it said he missed. Now, the real story of Friday’s game wasn’t that Love hit a game-winning three in the final seconds; it’s that Darko Milicic had 22 points and 7 rebounds.
Don’t make me eat another hat Darko. Don’t make me eat another hat.