Kevin Love: Gold Medalist and NBA Champion
Kevin Love has been in the NBA since 2008, serving for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers during his professional career. He spent the 2007-08 season at UCLA and left college early to enter the NBA Draft. His career has included a NBA championship, gold medals at major international competitions, an NCAA Final Four and more. Let’s break it down.
Welcome to Career Moments, a Nothing But Nylon series that delves into the major moments of a player, coach or other figure’s career in basketball to give you a snapshot of some of the top things they’ve accomplished and when, plus allowing you the opportunity to relive past glories and celebrate current successes.
Kevin Love Career Moments
2007 Gatorade National Male Athlete of the Year
As a senior in high school, Kevin Love was named the 2007 Gatorade National Male Athlete of the Year, among many other accolades. He also won the 2007 Naismith, Wooden, USA Today, National High School Coaches Association, McDonald’s and Parade Magazine Male High School Player of the Year honors.
These were just the accomplishments to cap off his ridiculous high school career. By the time his days at Lake Oswego High School in Lake Oswego, Oregon, were up, Love had set the Oregon state prep career scoring record with 2,628 points, became the first player in state history to be named player of the year three times (2005, 2006 and 2007) and averaged 26.8 points and 14.5 rebounds per contest. He led his team to three state championship games, including a title in 2006.
Kevin Love was pretty good in high school.
Final Four with UCLA in 2008
Love committed to UCLA as the No. 4 in the Class of 2007, according to 247Sports Composite. He only spent one season with the Bruins, but it was a pretty memorable one. His contributions were crucial to UCLA’s run to the 2008 Final Four, the third-straight for the program at the time.
The center put up 17.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per game and came up big in March, posting six double-doubles in the month alone. He scored in double figures in all 39 games that season and saved his best scoring night for the Sweet 16, notching a season-high 29 points against No. 12 seed Western Kentucky in the 88-78 victory.
That was one of multiple impressive tournament performances from the player, though. In the second round against Texas A&M, Love had seven of the team’s 11 blocks in the 51-49 survival.
“I was just very into it,” Love told ESPN after having squeezed the ball and screamed toward the crowd during a late timeout. “I flexed so much, my muscles kind of hurt after this and also I stuck my tongue out so much that it was pretty crazy.”
The run ended in the Final Four to fellow No. 1 seed Memphis, 78-63, but it will be a season that UCLA fans won’t soon forget, especially considering the program has not come close to the same level since.
Drafted No. 5 Overall in 2008 NBA Draft
Love was selected No. 5 overall in the 2008 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies, going one pick behind UCLA teammates Russell Westbrook. However, that didn’t last long as Love’s right were soon shipped to the Minnesota Timberwolves, along with Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal and Jason Collins, in exchange for the rights to No. 3 overall pick O.J. Mayo, Antoine Walker, Marko Jaric and Greg Buckner.
John Schuhmann of NBA.com wrote about the background of the deal in 2008.
“No two GMs have been more maligned in the past year than Minnesota’s Kevin McHale and Memphis’ Chris Wallace. Some day that they’re more responsible for putting the Celtics and Lakers in the Finals than the Celtics and Lakers themselves. So, this trade is a chance for one of them to redeem himself eventually. The question is: Which one will that be?
If McHale is really getting in Kevin Love what he thinks he’s getting, the Timberwolves have taken a big step in the right direction, because in Miller, they’re getting the best veteran in the deal by far. And Love teams with Al Jefferson to provide a young, talented frontcourt.
But if O.J. Mayo turns out to be a star and Love just a role player, then this deal could be just as bad for the Timberwolves as when they dealt the rights to Brandon Roy to Portland.
For Wallace and the Grizzlies, they’ve got a lot of young backcourt talent (Mayo, Rudy Gay, Mike Conley), but it’s yet to be seen how they fit together.”
Leads League in Rebounding, First NBA All-Star Game in 2010-11
It took a couple seasons for Kevin Love to establish himself as a true star in the NBA, but by his third season, he was there. In 2010-11, Love led the league in rebounds with 1,112 total and 15.2 per game and averaged 20.2 points per outing in 73 games, earning himself a place in his first NBA All-Star Game.
His breakout campaign also won him the 2010-11 Most Improved Player status from the NBA. Although Minnesota continued to lose, finishing below-.500 for the sixth year in a row, Love was starting to make a name for himself in the league and gave Timberwolves fans something to smile about.
Gold Medal in London in 2012
After winning gold at the 2010 FIBA World Championship, Kevin Love was on the prowl for another gold with Team USA at the 2012 London Olympics.
America went 8-0 in the tournament, including a clean sweep of Group A in the group stage through five games before finishing off the rest of its competition in the knockout round. Most of the contests were not remotely close, but twice, the Americans were given a stiff challenge. In group play, Lithuania pushed Team USA to respond, taking an 82-80 lead midway through the fourth quarter, though the Americans eventually won, 99-94. Love scored seven points and lead Team USA with eight rebounds.
While Spain didn’t get quite as close in the gold medal match, it did make Team USA squirm at times, remaining within striking distance late into the showdown. But, Love and the Americans pulled through in the end, 107-100, to secure the 14th men’s basketball gold medal for the country.
Love put up nine points and nine rebounds in the gold medal game and averaged 11.6 points and 7.6 rebounds for the whole tournament after appearing in all eight games and seeing 17.25 minutes per matchup.
Traded to Cleveland in 2014
Kevin Love had spent six individually successful seasons in Minnesota by the offseason of 2014, earning three All-Star Game appearances, but the Timberwolves hadn’t done much in that time, failing to qualify for the playoffs even once in that span. Needing to make a move, Minnesota offloaded Love to Cleveland.
As part of a three team deal that also included the Philadelphia 76ers, the much-discussed deal that had been on the minds of NBA fans for months beforehand finally happened on August 23, 2014. The Timberwolves received Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 picks in the 2013 and 2014 NBA Drafts, and a trade exception from Cleveland and Thaddeus Young from the 76ers. Philadelphia reeled in a 2016 first round pick from the Cavaliers and Luc Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved from Minnesota. Cleveland walked away with Kevin Love only.
There was a tremendous amount of drama surrounding the deal, with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor publicly badmouthing Love after the fact, even questioning his effort on the defensive side of the ball. The NBA was abuzz with Cleveland adding its third superstar, which seemed to be the prerequisite to becoming a legitimate threat to win a championship. Some felt the deal was exactly what the Cavs needed. Others thought it was an overpay that would harm the franchise down the road.
For Love, he just wanted everyone to focus on their own teams.
“For Glen to say that, I just think that he should be focusing on the players that he just received,” he said in an interview on ESPN Radio’s ‘Mike and Mike’ in 2014. “I mean, he has two of the No. 1 picks in the last two drafts: Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. He has another guy who can really play in Thaddeus Young. I think he got a lot for me. So I’d be focusing even more on that.”
Injury Takes Love Out of 2015 Run
While LeBron James returning to Cleveland in the 2014 offseason was obviously a massive boost that catapulted the franchise back into the playoffs, the addition of Kevin Love had an important impact, too.
Love fit into the team well, putting up 16.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game in the regular season and cementing himself as one of the top players on the squad. He started out well in the playoffs, too, even scoring 23 points with nine rebounds in Game 3 of the eventual first-round sweep of the No. 7 seed Boston Celtics. But a handful of minutes into Game 4, Love dislocated his left shoulder, forcing him to undergo surgery and miss the remainder of the postseason.
It happened during a battle for a rebound with Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk, who held onto Love’s arm after the ball seemed out of reach for him, yanking the Cavalier away from the rock. That was enough to end Love’s season, and he felt it was no accident.
“I thought it was a bush league play,” Love told reporters after the game. “Olynyk was in a compromising position, had no chance to get the ball. It’s just too bad that he would go to those lengths to take somebody out of the game and do that to someone. I have no doubt in my mind that he did that on purpose.”
The Cavs still did well, eliminating the No. 3 seed Chicago Bulls in the second round in six games and getting by the No. 1 seed Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals in four games to make their second NBA Finals appearance in franchise history. However, the Golden State Warriors were too much for Cleveland in the end, taking the championship in six games.
It can never be known whether or not Love would have made that series different, but it probably wouldn’t have hurt to have him available.
NBA Champion in 2016
Love didn’t get to play as much in his first shot at the postseason as he would have liked in 2015, but he had ample opportunity to make up for it one year later.
Cleveland lodged another successful regular season, going 57-25 and taking the No. 1 seed in the East. It swept the No. 8 seed Detroit Pistons and No. 4 seed Atlanta Hawks in back-to-back rounds, not losing a game in the postseason until falling to the No. 2 seed Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Love was a big part of that 10-game playoffs winning streak, averaging 18.4 points and 10.9 rebounds in those games.
The Cavaliers would eventually escape the Raptors, 4-2, following a 113-87 whooping of the challengers in Game 6. The win set the stage for a rematch with the Warriors in the NBA Finals.
Golden State famously took a 3-1 lead in the series, winning Game 1, Game 2 and Game 4. No team had ever come back from such a deficit in the NBA Finals, and the basketball world had all but resigned to another Warriors triumph. But Cleveland wasn’t having it.
The Cavs rattled off three wins in a row, none greater than the unforgettable 93-89 clincher in Game 7 at Oracle Arena, one of the greatest basketball games ever played, winning the first title in franchise history and snapping the seemingly-infinite Cleveland championship drought.
Love did not play in Game 3, but in his six games, and outside of a double-double in Game 1, he wasn’t very helpful through the series’ first four games. But he made some important plays in the second half of the series, including +18 and +19 marks while on the court during Game 5 and Game 7, respectively, plus 14 rebounds in Game 7, proving his contributions can come outside of points. Maybe the biggest play of his entire career came in the final minute of Game 7 as he was tasked with defending Steph Curry in isolation at the top of the key with his team up only three points. Love stayed in, forced the tough, contested triple that met iron, and Cleveland won it all.
It was Love’s first true try at the postseason after having his 2015 run cut short, and it couldn’t have gone better for the Cleveland big man.
NBA Finals in 2017 and 2018
Kevin Love and the Cavaliers made it back to the NBA Finals again in 2017 and 2018, completing four-straight appearances in the ultimate series. They met the Warriors in both, furthering the rivalry between the franchises. But unfortunately for Cleveland, 2017 and 2018 went more like 2015 than 2016, and the showing in the Finals was the most it could muster in both years.
Still, four NBA Finals in a row is an unbelievable accomplishment and not one that many players in the history of the game can say they achieved. But Love is one of them, and collectively, they have to be considered the defining moments of his career, at least to this point.