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Long before Michael Jordan arrived in the Windy City, Chicago Bull fans regularly witnessed 40-plus single-game performances. For seven consecutive seasons, from 1969-70 to '75-76, Bob Love led the team in scoring. It was the age of Aquarius, the Afro, platform shoes and bell-bottom pants. Platforms and bell-bottoms are back, and so is Bob Love.
Love, 50, who retired in 1977, rejoined the Bulls last fall as their director of community relations. A three-time All-Star and a veteran of 12 seasons with the Cincinnati Royals, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Bulls, the New York Nets and the Seattle SuperSonics, Love was the Bulls' all-time leading scorer until 1990, when Jordan surpassed him. Still, despite his achievements on the court, his greatest victory came in 1986, long after his playing days. It was then that Love finally overcame his stutter.
Love grew up in rural Bastrop, La., the last of his family to be born on a plantation. Drafted by the Royals in 1965 out of Southern University in Baton Rouge, Love, a 6'8" forward, began his career during the 1966-67 season. Two years later Love was traded to the Bulls. He was an impressive scorer and would become the Bulls' alltime leader in nearly every offensive category—his number, 10, will be retired on Dec. 7—but he was almost never asked to give interviews. He struggled to talk, and reporters struggled to listen. "I would score 45 points, go into the locker room, and all the reporters would come down," he says. "Everybody would pass me by."
After a dispute over a contract worth less than $110,000 a year, Love was traded to the Nets in 1976. Before the season was over, the Nets, disappointed in his performance, traded him to the SuperSonics. Love retired at the end of the season. He had six children and two ex-wives to support, and though he had a college degree in food and nutrition, his poor verbal skills led him from one dead-end job to another. Then in 1985, at 42, he was hired as a busboy by Nordstrom, a department store based in Seattle. "All I wanted was a chance," he says. "I was going to be the best busboy they had ever seen."
Nordstrom executives saw Love's potential and offered to promote him to supervisor, with one stipulation; he had to undergo speech therapy. Love had tried speech therapy twice before but had never persevered. His grandmother, with whom he lived as a boy, would occasionally try a less orthodox means of helping him. She had him place three marbles under his tongue and start talking. "Once you start talking," Love recalls her saying, "you won't stutter."
"When it came time to take the marbles out, only one came out," says Love. "I swallowed two almost every time. And I still stuttered."
As a boy Love was nurtured by a dream he had often. "I would be standing at a podium," he says. "I could see thousands of people, and I spoke to them. At times that dream would become so real to me. I could actually hear the people. I could see their faces. I held on to that dream."
In 1987, after working for a year with speech therapist Susan Hamilton, Love took the first step toward realizing his dream when he spoke these words at a high school awards ceremony in Rockford, Ill. "Hello, my name is Bob Love, and I'm a stutterer." His struggle to utter a sentence became a challenge to speak several sentences. He began giving motivational speeches to church groups, high school and college students, Rotary Clubs and sales associations, eventually becoming, of all things, a Bull spokesman.
"It's hard to believe I make a living speaking," says Love. "It's a dream come true. I held on to my dream, and I tell kids they have to hold on to theirs."