Without a doubt, Kevin Love is the best American-born Caucasian player to sweep through the NBA ranks in at least 15 years. He’s also the most underrated superstar the NBA has seen this decade. In sports, the measure of a man can only be judged by how he stacks up against his peers. If we were to use that adage as our lone barometer then Love is indeed special. No, he can't jump. No he's not very fast. But skills are what pays the bills.
Love arrived on the scene in 2008 after his freshman year at UCLA and was picked fifth overall by the Memphis Grizzlies, then traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves. He has toiled away in relative obscurity within a frozen basketball wasteland that has not basked in the sunny glory of the NBA playoffs since Kevin Garnett roamed the paint in Minneapolis.
The T’Wolves have been a moribund franchise since the departure of Garnett and Stephon Marbury. In 2012 the roster became so pale that African American Leadership Council chairman Tyrone Terrell jumped the shark on his assessment of the team's roster being comprised largely of white Americans and Europeans.
"How did we get to a roster that resembles the 1955 Lakers?” Tyrone Terrell told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “I think everything is a strategy. Nothing happens by happenstance.”
I laughed myself senseless at the silliness of Mr. Terrell's statement. To purposefully assign one's roster to look more like a team from 1950 instead of one from 2012 is almost a sure way to kill ticket sales and assign one’s franchise to being a perennial doormat. If that was an actual conspiracy it would have to go down as one of the least thought out cabals ever.
KG would have been a tough act to follow for anyone, and any analysts who would even jokingly compared the two would have been lambasted up until two seasons ago. What happened? Love reeled off the longest streak of games with a double-doubles in points and rebounds since the ABA-NBA in merger 1976 in 2011. In 2010, Love recorded the first 30 point, 30 rebound game in the NBA in 28 years.
For a man whose rebounding prowess has him being mentioned among such NBA greats as Wilt Chamberlain, who holds the longest double-double streak in the history of the NBA with 227, and Moses “Fo’ Fo’ Fo” Malone, Love doesn’t get much love at all. No sneaker deals, only two All-Star appearances, no endorsements and no television cameos. For a man who is averaging 26 points, 14 rebounds and 4 assists entering the New Year, it appears as if he is getting the short end of the stick.
Respecting the status of an NBA star is something referees have done in the league since before Michael Jordan’s ability to draw a foul with a mere glance toward refs. Kobe Bryant gets the lion's share of calls when active, and refs seem absolutely whistle shy whenever it comes to LeBron James as he hacks, travels and whines his way through the season.
Your average, everyday NBA Joe can whine, growl, spit, throw up signs like a Crip, and throw all types of fits but will never get those calls. The whistle has always been an indicator of a player’s NBA standing. So, imagine Love’s surprise when he was blatantly slapped by Dallas Mavericks forward Shawn Marion when attempting to shoot a game-tying two pointer on Dec. 30, at home in Minneapolis no less.
Love would simply smile incredulously after the play. The ref, who was clearly in position to make the call, simply did not. Perception and reality are kindred spirits for any person observing a particularly phenomenon. On what planet does Shawn Marion have more sway than Love?
One can only guess at what was going through the minds of referees Ed Malloy and David Guthrie, but the NBA begs to differ as far as their initial no-call was concerned. NBA president of basketball operations Rob Thorn issued a statement regarding the call.
"Through postgame video review, we have determined that Love was fouled on the right arm by Marion," Thorn's statement said. "Love should have been awarded two free throws with one second left on the clock."
This is incredible considering that the NBA never, ever releases a statement contradicting the on-court call of refs. Especially not a call from a regular season game. Professional basketball fans could likely cobble together their very own highlight reel featuring refs missing critical calls in crucial contests.
Although the game between Minnesota and Dallas did not have much importance overall, it was critical for a T’Wolves team that has gone 0-5 in December in games in which they’re trying to go over the .500 mark. Perhaps Thorn is trying to send a message to the rest of the league in general, and referees in particular. It would be in the best interest of the NBA not only protect the best Caucasian-American professional basketball player to come along in almost 20 years, but highlight him as well.
Though he’s playing like an MVP, Love will almost certainly lose to LeBron James or Kevin Durant when the tally for Most Valuable Player is counted. Maybe the NBA should hand him an award for white American players-the NBA Award for Racial and Cultural On-Court Diversity or something like that
The problem with Kevin is that he plays on a below average team in a small media market. That shouldn’t matter, especially for someone who has as much game as he does, but it does.
The Wolves are currently 16-16, but are already ahead of the pace set by prior Minnesota teams over the past three seasons. Last year the Wolves finished with a 31-51 record. Prior to that the team won only 26 games. Before that? 17 games! Should fans awaiting a spring thaw of their franchise’s hopes of a return to respectability get excited? Maybe, especially since the NBA appears to be mandating Love’s respect now. Only time, or the next blown call by the refs, will tell.