Bob Love: Speaking from the Heart

It’s been since Love’s playing career ended that he’s made his greatest impact as a Bulls team ambassador and motivational speaker.
Bob Love
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

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Bob Love was a three-time NBA All-Star for the Bulls and the first player in Bulls history—and only one until Michael Jordan—to score more than 40 points in three consecutive games. But it's been since Love's playing career ended that he's made his greatest impact as a Bulls team ambassador and motivational speaker.

"I talk about never giving up, never playing the victim in life, and holding on to your dreams," says Love, who's represented the Bulls for more than 20 years. "Never let anyone tell you that you can't succeed. All my life I wanted to be like Dr. Martin Luther King; I wanted to be a great speaker. I couldn't, but I had those dreams and I held onto those dreams all my life. When I get up there sometimes in front of thousands of people, I envision myself being Dr. King or John Kennedy; those were my heroes.

"Everybody has a struggle in life you have to overcome," says Love, whose No. 10 is retired by the Bulls. "I'm an example. Don't give up on your dreams no matter what everyone says."

Love's is an inspirational and remarkable story: A man who could barely speak with a lifelong stuttering issue who could only find work as a restaurant bus boy after his All-Star basketball career because of his speech disorder. Yet, he has gone on to speak regularly representing the Bulls and the NBA before audiences of hundreds and thousands.

"My proudest accomplishment is those kids I've spoken to all over the country and the world," says Love. "People never forget the story I tell; I feel I touch so many hearts and people."

It's an amazing story from a most humble beginning in rural Louisiana.

"I was raised in the cotton fields; it was the only kind of jobs you had in those days," says Love. "I never had a real basketball goal; my first one was made out of a coat hangar I stole from my grandmother's closet. My first basketball was my grandfather's socks. And they had a hole in them."

Love attended Southern University, a historically black college in Baton Rouge, where he was an all-American. He was a fourth round pick of the Cincinnati Royals, but he didn't make the team. The 6-8 forward played in the Eastern League and then took another shot with the Royals and made the team as a backup. He became a journeyman with not much expected. He was picked by Milwaukee in the expansion draft and soon traded to the Bulls, where he languished until Pat Williams didn't trade him and coach Dick Motta discovered a star on his bench.

Love averaged more than 20 points for six consecutive seasons and then 19.1 in the seventh while the Bulls became one of the top contenders in the Western Conference. He was one of the NBA's best two-way players as he led the Bulls in scoring seven straight seasons and also was NBA all-defense three times. He was in the top 10 in NBA scoring three times, finishing some of those seasons ahead of the likes of Pete Maravich, Jerry West, Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe and Elvin Hayes. The early 70s Bulls broke up after that and Love finished his career with the Nets and in Seattle after one more season at 34 with back problems. He'd eventually lost most of his money through a divorce and investments, and he couldn't find work.

"I stayed in Seattle," recalls Love. "No one knew me like they did in Chicago. I couldn't get a job; I tried everywhere for years. Finally, I got hired at the Nordstrom department store. They said, 'Bob the only thing we've got is busing tables and washing dishes. Do you want it?' I said, 'I'll take it.' I just wanted a chance. They gave me an opportunity."

Then when the All-Star game was in Seattle in 1987, Bulls vice-president Steve Schanwald saw a story about Love.

"I always called him the smartest man in world," said Love with a laugh. "He brought the idea back to Jerry (Reinsdorf). He said I'd be great fit for ambassador. Without Michael (Reinsdorf) and Jerry this never would have happened. They've treated me like family. They call me 'Butterbean' or 'Butter (his pro nicknames).' They treat me like family. It's been like heaven ever since. It's been like I was reborn."

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