DENVER — When Kevin Love was eight he was shooting around with his father one day outside their home in Lake Oswego, Ore., but his heart wasn’t into it. He kept begging his dad to let him play some football.
“No way, basketball is your game.”
The same cherished game played professionally by his father from 1971 (the draft’s ninth pick by the Bullets) until 1975 when the 206-cm, 97-kg eccentric retired to work as a bodyguard for his older brother Mike’s group, the Beach Boys.
Stan Love’s NBA averages were a benign 6.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 14.7 minutes in 227 games. Once upon a time during that relatively rapid career, he broke Dave DeBusschere’s nose with an errant elbow.
Mostly, however, Stan impacted the league and its players very little. It was the other way around. He worshipped the rebounding and outlet passing prowess of undersized center Wes Unseld to such an extent that Stan gave Kevin the same middle name — though he misspelled it Wesley when it should be Westley — and shaped his talents to his teammates’ specifications.
And when Stan became a Laker he was so moved by Connie Hawkins’ magnificence, something he never stopped talking about, Kevin later adopted him as his idol, hence his No. 42 Timberwolves’ jersey.
So, there they were; an ambivalent 8-year-old and his forceful father on the family’s basketball court. And as Stan was pacing the paint’s entire rectangle he said to Kevin, “See this key, this is your football field, you can beat the life out of anybody in this area.”
Kevin smiled maniacally and replied, “Really, Dad?”
When Kevin was a high school sophomore he and his brother Collin unofficially visited UCLA. Bill Feinberg, a forever friend of Stan, knew Swen Nater was going to be in L.A. that weekend visiting John Wooden and doing a book signing.
So, Feinberg called Tom Lubin and Nater and asked if they would meet Kevin at Pauley Pavilion and teach him some big man stuff, their untouchable specialty. Lubin discovered Swen and Mark Eaton, both whom were cut by their high school coaches and told to give up the game.
By 7 a.m., the next day, the front seat of Lubin’s red pickup truck was packed with the 201-cm driver, 208-cm Kevin in the middle, and the 211-cm Nater, the lone player to lead both the NBA and ABA in rebounding, riding shotgun.
Kevin received an introductory 3-hour course on the tricks of the turf that morning. Lubin later called Feinberg and remarked he had never seen “such a naturally skilled rebounder with a God-given nose for the ball.”
And then there’s his sheer delight at crashing the glass and ignoring the shards while absorbing and inflicting pain.
“I just dug out an AOL Instant Messenger string from our conversation when Kevin was a high school junior,” e-mailed Feinberg.
It read, “I want to be a rebounder like Dennis Rodman. I want to get every rebound and bleep up everybody up on the boards.”
Fast forward to Saturday night. There I was, watching the Knicks play the Timberwolves. Not the most attractive matchup of the evening, but, truth be known, I’m a pushover for the pushovers.
And there was Minnesota, down 21 points early third, eventually winning going away by nine.
And there was Michael Beasley, coming off a career-high 42 points at Sacramento, dropping 35 on Camp Cablevision.
And then there was Kevin Love, playing an unseasonably high 40 minutes (apparently Kurt Rambis lost track of the time) and going for 31 points and 31 rebounds (Denny McLain was first to call with congratulations), something unseen since Feb. 11, 1982, when Moses Malone (32 and 38) ruled the rack and the scoring column that completely in beating Jack Sikma’s Sonics, 117-110.
Oh, yeah, a dozen of the 31 search-and-seizures were commandeered off Minnesota misses. For non-trackers of statistics, Love has recorded 96 points and 92 rebounds his last five forays, under-carded by 23 and 24 against the Lakers last Tuesday.
I’ve been around the association long enough to realize one very simple truth . . . artistry and jumping beans be damned, some guys can just flat-out ball and bogart.
Not that Rambis is expected to coach Love any differently from now on. No doubt he’ll have to sing for his supper and mambo for his minutes . . . regardless of Nikola Pekovic’s availability.
The reality is, had the 211-cm rookie not injured his left foot in the second quarter, there probably wouldn’t have been time for the Lovefest.
Afterthought: It’s fascinating to learn that since the merger seven players have flexed for 30 and 30 or more . . . and two of them are Swen and Kevin . . . mentor, student, and friends.
Peter Vecsey covers the NBAfor the New York Post.
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