Sports in America, more specifically basketball, place less and less emphasis on the team anymore. Instead they honor individual merits with awards and praise, which seems to grab the attention of the media more often than any team performance ever would unless it were the championship. For example, winding down the day with a little SportsCenter on the tube that evening, all your bound to see are highlights of individuals making plays and then the final score of the game only at the very end. “Kevin Durant drops a bomb from deep … K.D. flies down the lane for the slam … Durantulla scored 46 points and the game-winner. Oh, and the Thunder won by 2.”
It’s not all their fault. It’s been that way nearly forever. Until you strip names off the back of uniforms and force fandom into broadening their scope to take away our “praise be to thee” system, the single player will get praise first, then team second.
With that emphasis individual achievement, it’s easy to let it get to your head. You know, think you’re better than the rest, perhaps forget that a lot of the credit is due to teammates and coaches and trainers. Early in his career, Kevin Love could’ve easily fallen into that trap, having gotten into tussles with teammates and badmouthing a front office (Even if they did deserve it). Some of his actions throughout his career suggest he might think he’s bigger than the Wolves or even the city of Minneapolis entirely. But the way we as fans push athletes to a national-level pedestal, we could just as easily be the ones to blame.
It’s not all about big heads and oversized egos, though. American sports can also be one of the most humbling employment opportunities in the entire world. I watch and play a lot of golf, and I think it’s the best sport to prove my point. Golfers train their whole lives to get their game where it needs to be to win tournaments, money and livelihood. Once they finally make it, there is no team. It really is just them, so their accounted for to make all the right swings and putts with just a tiny margin of error. But it sure isn’t easy with all that pressure on your shoulders and no teammates to divide it up to. Sinking a 4-foot putt is like trying roll the ball over a moving ant; that easy-going 7-iron you hit in practice on the 17th tee feels like you’re swinging wet noodle while trying to hit a skittle off a tee. It can be brutally honest feedback whispering in your ear, “You’re just not that good.”
When times get tough, the tough get going. The saying has never been truer. But not everyone is that tough all the time and so, inevitably, mistakes will be made. That’s why you have to respect the game for what it is, learn your lesson and move on with a new, meek attitude.
Humility. It’s a word that I always thought best describes what the majority of good basketball players DON’T have, and that includes our very own Kevin Love. He went from a pudgy white kid with great skill to one of the NBA’s most respected players in just a few years. It’s not easy to make a jump like that without just a little bit getting to your head. The work you put in, the hours of sweat, aches and pain, might help you stay grounded, but when all is going well, it’s hard not to get ahead of yourself and get swept up by the moment. “Yeah, I am this good!”
I love basketball but it’s absolutely the worst sport when it comes to honoring humble beginnings. You’re born and possibly even bred to be much taller than the average human being. And then you use the most simple, basic athletic abilities (Run, jump, shuffle) to gain competitive advantage over the rest of your peers. It’s as silver-platter as a sport can get.
I do believe that Love, who comes from a privileged background which includes an uncle (Mike Love) from the Beach Boys, came into this league a little selfish and perhaps a tad cocky. It wasn’t easy starting out, either. But Love realized that his glory days on the West coast were over and it was time to start anew. He had to work his tail off to show the organization that he could be better than their staple at the time in Big Al Jefferson. He had to win over an entirely unreliable and almost foreign fanbase. And he had to do it all while losing over 50 games a season to start his career. That’s awfully unsettling.
But having been elected now to his third All-Star game and the first starting bid, I think it’s easy to say that Love has come full circle from his immature beginnings. After all, he did work hard enough to not only beat out Jefferson, but to become one of the elite players in the NBA. He has won over a fanbase in Minnesota by even making non-basketball fans come to watch a game or two. And now the team is finally starting to turnaround their misfortune of the late 2000′s and win some freaking games. If you ask me, it’s all coming together quite nicely for both he and the franchise.
Love is currently averaging 24.9 PPG, 12.9 RPG and 4.1 APG. In fact, he’s chasing Kareem Abdul Jabbar to become the only one since to average 25/13/4 before the All-Star break. He’s also ranked fourth in total scoring, second in total rebounds and tenth in offensive rebounds. He’s been so good that the Wolves’s offensive efficiency with him on the court is 114.6. It’s just 96.6 when he’s on the bench, a difference of 18 points. Having one of the best pump fakes in the biz, he’s posting a career-high 13.3 percent drawn foul rate. His work ethic has helped improve his defense, which was a major weakness when he first came into the league. He’s already recorded 38 steals this season, his career-high being 47. The numbers don’t lie, folks; this guy is really good, and he may just only be scratching the surface.
What sparked this article was a transcribe from a conference call Love took, explaining how he found out about his All-Star bid and more. Flip Saunders was jerking him around a bit until he actually dropped the news.
“So [Flip] comes to my room, I open the door, it’s him and Milt and you know, as I’m kind of pushing the door back he said ‘Congrats’. And I said ‘What are you talking about?’ And Flip looks at me and says, ‘You’re going to be an All-Star starter, buddy.’ That was a pretty surreal moment for me,” Love said.
Surreal? But this will be your third All-Star game in as many years…?
“You know for the fans to reach out and vote me in and to play amongst my peers that are very well liked and popular around the world, it really means a lot,” Love said.
Oh, okay gotcha. So it’s more special because the fans voted you in?
“I think it’s a little sweeter this way, because I really didn’t expect it. I was very, I was already humbled by the response the fans gave me to even being that close to the top,” Love said.
Ahhh, now that’s the candid response I’ve been waiting for. Good for you, Kevin. Good for you.
We all know that Love’s NBA fairy tale could very well close its chapter in Minnesota in the Summer of 2015 or even earlier. Free agency is looming and his contract’s running low on days. We don’t know if/when he’ll be wearing another jersey but at least we get to say we had a part in molding Love’s exceptional production but, most importantly, his newfound humility.