“For it so falls out
That what we have we prize not to the worth
Whiles we enjoy it, but being lack’d and lost,
Why, then we rack the value, then we find
The virtue that possession would not show us
Whiles it was ours”
– William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Act IV, Scene I
Some relationships end in a fury, a storm of accusations, screaming matches and slamming doors. Other relationships end slowly, gradually, marked by words left unsaid, the quiet, empty spaces where conversation and laughter used to live.
In Shakespearean tragedies, ill-fated romances almost always conclude with the gruesome, if eloquently narrated, death of one or both the characters involved. Thankfully, the tumultuous partnership between Kevin Love and the Timberwolves isn’t so dire; he’s merely leaving for employment in another city, and possibly soon. The conclusion to Minnesota’s Love affair resembles the second type of breakup, the slow kind, quibbles bubbling to the surface every now and again, the atrophy taking its toll until Flip can no longer bear it and Kevin is sent packing.
The Bard almost always killed his star-crossed lovers, but he had a few things to say about more civil splits as well, especially in his comedies. The above quote from Much Ado About Nothing is a flowery rendering of the timeless adage that “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” And while Love isn’t quite gone yet, and the breakup isn’t complete, many who follow the Timberwolves closely are preemptively employing a common breakup coping mechanism: we’re trying to convince ourselves that we never really loved him at all.
A few weeks ago, following Kevin Love’s awkward appearance on SportsNation, a prominent Twin Cities sports talk show asked their listeners to contact the program to finish following sentence: Kevin Love is a (blank). What followed was ten minutes of the hosts giggling over the various creative insults that flooded the studio, snickering over ones they couldn’t say on the air, and a generalized rundown of the power forward’s many faults. He complains to the referees too much. He’s a lazy defender who doesn’t get back from the offensive end quickly enough. He’s not clutch. He’s never been a leader. He’s cold and distant to the media. He’s all about his own numbers, not about winning. He isn’t Kevin Garnett. In fact, he wouldn’t be worthy of tying KG’s shoes.
Some of the anger from fans is understandable. It’s a predictable, parochial response to an elite athlete maneuvering to abandon his current city. And not all the criticism of Love has been so crass; some of it is perfectly well-reasoned and respectable. But let’s not write revisionist history. If all the anti-Love chatter is to be believed, he’s a bit player who’s completely unworthy of all the attention coming his way, a merely decent player whose contract situation is a juicy soap opera but lacks the moral and basketball fiber to back it all up. The truth might be a bit more nuanced than that.
Kevin Love had just completed his sophomore year of high school in the summer of 2004, when the Timberwolves’ precipitous fall from grace began. Four years later he arrived in the Twin Cities as a pudgy rebounder who was decent in the post. Over the course of his six seasons here, he has remade his body (twice) and become one of the most unique offensive players in the history of the league. Despite his efforts, he couldn’t single-handedly turn things around for the Wolves – their problems preceded him, and will linger once he’s gone.
We watched his post game become more and more nuanced, we watched him morph into a great outside shooter, and we watched arcing outlet passes become poetry in motion. And while he isn’t a good defender, he’s hardly the sieve his detractors claim he is; at least his penchant for grabbing rebounds ends possessions, intrinsically providing some defensive value. It’s true that basketball is the one sport that lends itself most readily to individuals carrying teams to greatness, but that phenomenon is sometimes overblown. Michael Jordan didn’t lead his team to a winning season until Scottie Pippen came along. Lebron James didn’t win a single Finals game until he teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. Even stars much bigger than Love still needed help to get over the hump. Kevin Love never got quite enough help in Minnesota.
Kevin Love didn’t win “enough” because the team wasn’t good enough, and absent victories, the next best thing is having a terrific individual to entertain a fan base, which is exactly what Love did. The analogy isn’t perfect, but having Love in Minnesota was a little like having an ace pitcher on a bad baseball team – every fifth day, you’ve got at least chance to see something special. Every night Love put on a Wolves uniform, particularly in 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2013-14, we had a chance to see something special, and while the losses will diminish his legacy in Minnesota (fairly or unfairly), we shouldn’t lose sight of how great he was during his time here.
In the opening scene of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, another pair of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, Hermia and Lysander, try to comfort one another in the face of familial opposition to their relationship. Lysander tries to buoy Hermia’s spirits, despite her father’s arrangement for her to marry someone else, commenting that their situation was hardly unique:
“Ay, me! for that aught I could ever read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth.”
It’s convenient to think of Love as a subpar superstar who isn’t a born and bred winner like Jordan and Lebron, but the facts are messier than that. It’s easy to think he’s not a defensive stalwart because he’s lazy, rather than considering more subtle factors or the possibility that he could still improve. And it’s easy to hate him for forcing the Wolves’ hand by wanting out, instead of remembering that players have forced movement in all sports for decades, all in the name of money or fame or the quest for a championship. Kevin Love is hardly the only athlete to travel down this road. For six years, that path has wound through Minnesota, and instead of simply vilifying the second-best player in the history of the Wolves’ franchise, it’d be better to appreciate, understand, and move on. “The course of true love never did run smooth.”
Nor has it for our own Love.