Timberwolves star Kevin Loveâ€™s everyman style resonates with Minnesota fans.
By JOAN NIESENFS North
MINNEAPOLIS – Finding Kevin Love in the Twin Cities since he returned late last week has been something of a variation on Where's Waldo. He's in Eden Prairie. He's shooting commercials. He's at Target Field. He's everywhere, it seems, and never for long.
He's at the Target Center, yes, for workouts and press appearances, but that's only been a small portion of Love's docket. He's more present in the community than ever before, and as his fifth season in Minnesota looms, Love has learned the value of being a public figure.
Last winter, after some slightly contentious negotiations, Love signed a contract extension with the Timberwolves for three seasons, with a player option for a fourth. So barring the All-Star power forward demanding a trade, he'll be a Minnesota resident through the 2014-15 season, if not longer. He's become the face of the Timberwolves and one of the league's most prominent players, and he's smart. Love knows that he has an opportunity, both financial and personal, to make something of his status.
A player can easily be a star without doing the public things Love is doing, but it's harder for him to be beloved without this kind of effort. Love's charm is that he's an everyman: he used to be a bit chubby, can still be a little awkward and plays for a team that hasn't won during his career. By doing what he's doing, he's playing off his assets and not trying to be something he isn't.
Last winter, Love started hosting Twitter meetups, where he'd tweet a time and location he'd be later in the day for a giveaway. It was an opportunity for fans to shake his hand and receive free merchandise, but he also was promoting the brand, 361 Degrees, with which he has an endorsement contract. It's one part good deed, one part self and brand promotion, and it's exactly the kind of thing a marquee player like Love should be doing.
That trend continued last season; he had an octopus named after him at the Sea Life Aquarium at the Mall of America and posed for the cover of SLAM Magazine. He got his face and his message out there, to the local community and on the national stage, as much as he could, through everything from Twitter to Instagram to old-fashioned appearances.
"In this day and age, social media is a big part of what we do," Love said. "It's a great way to keep fans engaged… You go out there and you just try to be yourself on there and try to be a likeable person, likeable athlete and likeable guy."
In the lead-up to this season, Love has capitalized on the increased attention surrounding the Timberwolves and his own rising prominence within the league. Immediately upon returning to Minnesota, he hosted the Kevin Love Basketball ProCamp at Eden Prairie High School. It was the biggest camp he's ever hosted, and he lent a personal touch, appearing to play with campers and instruct them.
"It's not about me," Love said. "It's about the kids. When they're out there smiling, it geeks me up because I was in their shoes when I was a young kid as well."
Love has done the typical charity circuit with the Timberwolves, participating in their Fast Break Foundation and with owner Glen Taylor on various initiatives. He's worked with St. Judes. But what's most remarkable is that he's gone beyond all that. Not everything Love does is announced through a press release. There are those Twitter meetups and other initiatives he launches through his own social media. Love is visible, and he looks like he's having fun.
In the past year, Love's national profile has risen immensely. He finished last season fourth in the NBA in scoring and second in assists. He was chosen as an NBA All-Star for the second time and to play in London as a member of Team USA. Of course people are noticing. He's filmed commercials with Magic Johnson and Ricky Rubio and has hammed it up for pictures with his medal. He's doing all that, and yet he's still made his adopted city a priority.
On Tuesday, Love spontaneously announced that he'd purchased 500 tickets to the Lynx's Friday playoff game against Seattle to be given away to fans. It was a big show of support from a high-profile player to a low-profile league, and no matter his motives, Love's actions meant something to the Lynx.
"We really appreciate what Kevin Love is doing for our team," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "You know, Kevin's a guy that understands how much fun playoff basketball is. It's something that he wants to be a part of, and I'll let him know that I'll buy tickets when it comes time for them to be in the playoffs. But his support and the Timberwolves' support of what the Lynx are doing is really important to our players."
He also threw out the first pitch at Wednesday's Twins game against the Yankees, a fun appearance that also showed support to a losing Twin Cities team. Love could have approached it like an obligation, but instead he treated it like the opportunity of a lifetime. He played catch and took batting practice. He signed autographs and stopped at times just to take it all in. When Twins manager Ron Gardenhire invited him back on Friday to take live batting practice, Love quickly accepted.
He's out there in the community, showing his face and catering to fans. But, more than anything, he's having fun.
Love is doing all the things that athletes should do. He's balancing the selfish with the selfless, promoting himself, his team and his brand while his fans simultaneously benefit. He may only be 24, but Love gets it. All the little things that come with his job, the hand-shaking and autograph signing and even just smiling, Love does well and willingly. It really doesn't matter if he's doing it because he was told to or out of the good of his heart. It doesn't matter simply because he's doing it and doing it well. It doesn't matter because he's having fun.