Personal growth helping Love on the court
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Kevin Love sat down at the microphone for his meeting with reporters on Timberwolves media day, and everyone expected the usual mundane chatter about how this team needs to improve, connecting with a new coaching staff in such a short period of time and what he worked on in the offseason to improve his game.
The 23-year-old All-Star followed that form for the first few minutes, cracking jokes about Ricky Rubio, vaguely covering conversations he had with coach Rick Adelman and hoping the team's youth will help during a rigorous schedule.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Love started to reflect on what he needs to do to become the man he wants to be and the leader the Timberwolves so desperately need.
"I just think, just going through a lot of things with my family this summer that helped me to grow up, my mom and dad, really helped me as well,'' Love said, his voice shaking a little. "But I'm going to try not to get emotional here, but that was a big part of it as well. I wish I could touch on some of this stuff with you, but some of it's very personal.''
The room fell silent for a moment as Love shared an uncommon moment of vulnerability with a room full of people he doesn't really know. It was the first sign that Love has changed as he prepares to enter his fourth NBA season, no longer satisfied with piling up some of the best numbers in the game, no longer content to be a member of the league's doormat.
To get to this point, Love had to do some personal examination during this long, weird, NBA offseason, a period that allowed him to broaden his horizons for the first time in his young life and try to resolve some grudges within his own family that have been weighing on him for years.
"For me it just hit me one day,'' Love said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "It's just one of those things where I felt a sense of enlightenment. I woke up one day and said, I have this window of time in the NBA, this X amount of years after basketball. How can I better my life and better the life of people around me that I care about?''
For much of the time he was growing up as the son of a former NBA player and nephew of a Beach Boys icon, basketball was all Love wanted and all he needed. He was a high school star in Oregon, an All-American in his only season at UCLA and last year led the NBA in rebounding. He became the first player in more than two decades to have 30 rebounds and 30 points in the same game and became an All-Star in just his third season as a pro.
If there was a criticism of Love the basketball player, it was that maybe he was a little too consumed with his own numbers. Some thought his relentless pursuit of rebounds occasionally hindered the team's defensive schemes. Others questioned if he had the makeup and the maturity to be a true leader on a young team aching for direction.
Keenly aware of his place in the league and his reputation, Love went to work in the offseason to address his weaknesses. What he found was that the answers to his problems actually may lie in taking some of his focus away from the game and putting it toward a more well-rounded life.
"Definitely in my earlier years I was just saying, I don't have to really focus on my studies. I don't have to try new things. I don't have to learn how to change a tire or start a fire, anything like that,'' Love said. "I just go out there and play basketball and I'm set. And while that might be true from a financial standpoint, at the end of the day, that doesn't shape you as a person.''
Love went back to school during the lockout, played some professional beach volleyball and started a relationship.
"Really just getting out of my comfort zone and most of the time when you get out of your comfort zone, that's the time for a lot of personal growth,'' he said.
Perhaps most importantly, Love was able to reconcile some long-standing grudges that allowed him to be with his immediate family for Thanksgiving for the first time in years.
"All those experiences that helped shape me and helped me grow up,'' Love said. "So I think I took a big step, not only on the floor this summer but as a person as well.''
As the problems melted away, so did the pounds. He dropped 25 this summer and reported to training camp in the best shape of his life.
"He's sexy, isn't he?'' forward Michael Beasley said, poking fun at the new trim and tone physique.
"He's trying to be more of a leader, more vocally, and definitely is bringing it more every day in practice, more than he did last year,'' forward Anthony Tolliver said. "I think that's partly because he's in better shape. He's definitely matured. He still has a long way to go, but so do all of us.''
Love will have an important decision to make in the coming month or so. Does he sign a contract extension to stay in Minnesota or does he wait until the end of the season and become a restricted free agent?
It's clear that he has thought about signing a big contract, perhaps even a max deal. But the Timberwolves would no doubt be helped if he applied this new outlook on life to their salary cap.
"Money doesn't rule everything,'' Love said. "It helps. But at the same time, it doesn't consume you. It's not what defines you as a person. That's the way I looked at it and (I) really love that perspective on life.''
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