Feeling the All-Star Love
Feeling the All-Star Love
Traveling 30,000 feet in the air en route to Toronto, Kevin Love’s All-Star candidacy remained a mystery.
As the team shuttled to the hotel on Thursday night, an answer was provided to a highly anticipated question with the TNT broadcast crew announcing the NBA All-Star reserves. Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, Dirk Nowitzki, Manu Ginboli, Pau Gasol, Blake Griffin and Tim Duncan heard their names on the distinguished list…but no love for No. 42.
At Friday morning’s shootaround, Love was focused on the task at hand while taking the high road when peppered with All-Star snub questions from the media. On the other end of the spectrum, Charles Barkley was sounding off, Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix was categorizing the omission as “criminal” and Wolves fans were searching for answers to find out how a player averaging 21 points and 15 rebounds per game could miss the league’s midseason showcase event.
Fast forward to Friday evening prior to the Wolves matchup against the Raptors, where a truly memorable moment took place inside the Minnesota locker room. Assistant coaches Bill Laiimbeer and Dave Wohl attempted to clear their team’s private space of the suspect NBATV camera crew before head coach Kurt Rambis silenced the team.
“Coach kind of stopped us and he said, ‘Hey, can you guys quiet down, I have something to say before you go.’ “And he just said, ‘We got a call from the league office,’ and my stomach dropped,” Love explained. “He said, ‘Kevin Love will be representing us at All-Star Weekend in the All-Star game.’
NBA commissioner David Stern faced a difficult decision to pick from a group of All-Star worthy candidates as an injury replacement for Rockets center Yao Ming. Stern needed little time, selecting the Wolves double-double machine and granting the third-year rising star a life-changing opportunity on the grand stage.
“I’m very humbled and I was extremely surprised,” Love smiled. “I didn’t know what to think, I was just kind of sitting there and he stuck out his hand. I was like, is he for real? I didn’t know because I didn’t know when the announcement was going to be made; I had no texts on my phone – nothing. Like I said, truly humbled.”
Two years ago, Minnesota acquired the power forward in a draft day trade with the Memphis Grizzlies. Scrutiny trailed the franchise for taking a chance on a player that did not offer the athleticism and flashy appeal most teams covet in the draft. Through 49 games into the 2010-11 season, Love has exceeded all expectations while achieving historic status – an impressive feat most NBA analysts couldn’t forecast in 2008.
His minutes, points, and rebounds per game increased every year in the midst of a revolving door of teammates and coaches. After averaging 14 points and 11 boards in 2009-10, Love faced a golden opportunity, both literally and figuratively.
The former UCLA star was offered a chance to run with USA Basketball this past summer and battle the world for a gold medal. Clearly the experience changed Love’s approach to practice and he quickly realized the type of work ethic needed to transition from a solid NBA player into an NBA All-Star. He answered the call by impressing USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski and displaying vast improvement in limited court time for the red, white, and blue.
2008 Gold Medalist and two-time MVP LeBron James shared admiration for Love, “I think Kevin Love is an unbelievable player. He’s not a guy that plays above the rim, but he always one of the league leaders in rebounds.”
Love built a reputation as an elite glass cleaner in the mold of Wes Unseld, Moses Malone, and even Barkley. The additional layer to Love’s underrated game involved the expanded offensive production. All of the sudden, the 6-10 big man utilized his slimmed down frame to pop out from screens for open 3-point opportunities. He began to seal opposing post players on the blocks and turn towards his strong side for a consistent right-handed hook in the lane. Love even developed a veteran pump fake to draw fouls on the opposition and open space for driving avenues. The overall package was in full view for the local fan base and the national media took notice of the absurd numbers posted on a nightly basis.
“He’s showing the whole world now what he can do and he’s playing All-Star basketball with this team,” Love’s good friend and former UCLA teammate Westbrook reiterated.
So, exactly how did Love garner the attention outside of the Twin Cities? One evening at the Target Center changed the national perception and elevated Love into elite status with 31 points, 31 rebounds in 41 minutes.
He did what?
“Video game numbers – 30 rebounds in a game is unheard of around this league,” fellow Western Conference All-Star member Kevin Durant stated.
This is the common reaction to Love’s ridiculous output. Since a dreadful scoreless and 7-rebound night against the Lakers on November 19, Love has rattled off 35 straight double-doubles and snatched the league-lead with 44 on the season. Additionally, the 22-year old is incredibly efficient, averaging 21.4 points per game off 47.2 percent shooting from the floor, 43.9 percent behind the arc, and 87 percent at the charity stripe.
Stern simply couldn’t ignore the gaudy numbers and thus, sends Love back to LA where he is quite familiar with the glitzy territory.
“It all comes back around and I think that good things happen to people that work hard and good things happen to good people,” a jovial Love proclaimed. “For me, I feel truly humble, truly blessed, and I’m very excited to represent the Wolves at All-Star Weekend and the All-Star game on Sunday.”
A storybook ending to an All-Star selection process that promises to open up a whole new chapter for a player who learned a little Love can go a long way.
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