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By fifth grade Kevin was spending weekends at the Boys & Girls Club in northeast Portland, yearning to experience inner-city basketball, the hunger and physicality of it. "Those guys punished you, pushed you into the ground, didn't care if they beat you by 50," Kevin says. "I loved it." He wanted to play football in high school, but his mother, Karen, was a nurse at Emanuel Hospital, and she saw the players come in on Friday nights woozy from concussions. Stan took Kevin to a local gym, pointed at the key and said, "You can knock down anybody you like right here." Kevin became one of the best basketball prospects in the nation, the latest member of a family touched by fame.
To outsiders, the Loves were charmed, but Kevin had a different perspective. Stan would tell him stories about life in the NBA and life with the Beach Boys, forever framed as cautionary tales. Some were about Stan himself, how he could have lasted longer in the league if he worked on his craft every summer instead of partying on the beach. But most were about another affable prodigy named Brian Wilson.
When Stan retired from the NBA in 1975, the Beach Boys hired him to move in with Wilson, Stan's first cousin and the band's brilliant but fragile songwriter. "Kevin used to ask me what Brian was like at his age," Stan says. "He was Tom Brady and John Elway rolled into one, smart and good-looking, the perfect all-American guy." But by the time Stan went to work with Wilson, he also had schizoaffective disorder and was a drug addict who weighed more than 300 pounds. He was so steeped in depression he rarely left his bedroom. Recalls Stan, "When I found him, he was catatonic on the floor."
Stan's responsibilities included driving Wilson to his many doctors' appointments and keeping LSD and cocaine out of his hands. "I had to get in the way of the Hollywood creeps who were telling him, 'Brian, you're so great, here's another bag of coke,'" Stan says. He tried to rehabilitate Wilson the only way he knew, with basketball. They played pickup games at Pauley Pavilion, and Wilson began to lose weight, developing a passable jumper. But progress was slow. Once, a friend rushed into Wilson's house in Beverly Hills to alert Stan that a homeless man wearing nothing but a robe was standing in the middle of the street, bumming cigarettes from passing cars. "Oh, no," Stan said. "That's Brian."
In 1983 Wilson's first wife, Marilyn, found him a new caretaker. Eugene Landy was a self-proclaimed "psychologist to the stars" who moved in with Wilson for the better part of a decade, cowriting songs and partnering in a record company. Wilson grew estranged from his family and changed his will to make Landy the primary beneficiary, even after Landy lost his medical license in California for unlawfully prescribing medication. Stan filed suit against Landy in 1990, claiming he had brainwashed Wilson, and a year later a court-appointed conservator was put in control of Wilson's affairs.
Wilson eventually extricated himself from Landy, but the episode made a lasting impact on the Loves. Stan was a Southern California original—his mother, Emily, lived on the beach in San Clemente for four years during the Great Depression—but he had seen what L.A.'s drug culture did to Brian, and he could not take the same risks with his own children. When Kevin was two, the family moved out of their house overlooking the ocean in Pacific Palisades and relocated to Lake Oswego. "What we learned from all those stories," says Kevin's older brother, Collin, "was how not to do things."
Stan was a stay-at-home dad, and when Kevin started playing AAU basketball, he insisted on being allowed on all his son's road trips. He believed the AAU creeps were no different from the Hollywood ones. When Kevin went to UCLA, Collin joined him, and they lived in an apartment instead of the dorms. "We wanted to keep the circle tight," Collin says. Kevin led the Bruins to the Final Four in his lone college season, but he often felt teammates were freezing him out, so he came to think of rebounds as passes. If he wanted the ball, he had to grab it himself.
During downtime Kevin visited John Wooden and Jerry West, but he longed to see the other L.A., where his dad grew up. He also asked a former AAU coach and community outreach manager, DeAnthony Langston, to drive him to Watts and take him for haircuts at the Our People Barber Shop in Carson. "I had to call ahead," Langston says. "I didn't know if they could cut a white boy's hair."
Even though he averaged 17.5 points and 10.6 rebounds in his season with the Bruins, pro scouts worried that Love was undersized as a power forward and not dynamic enough to compensate. One NBA coach left Pauley in a huff during a game, and when he spotted Harrick in the crowd, shouted at him, "Where's he going to play?" Harrick barked, "Anywhere he wants." Former Timberwolves G.M. Kevin McHale was panned on draft night when he sent guard O.J. Mayo to the Grizzlies as part of a deal for Love, but McHale told staffers, "This guy can do something at an elite level that not many can."
McHale recognized the hands like vises and legs like Oregon sequoias, tools of a rebounding fiend. Love was not fast, but he was quick in small spaces, and once he positioned himself, he could not be moved. Regardless, Love started just 59 games in his first two seasons in Minnesota, and when he returned to his downtown apartment after nights on the bench, he would ask Collin, "Am I stuck in this situation forever? How am I going to get out?"