Unlike others, Love's story has lasted
MINNEAPOLIS – On March 24, Jeremy Lin injured his knee, thereby dealing the death blow to the NBA's feel-good story of the moment. But don't call it fleeting – the Lin phenomenon lasted a whole month and a half.
Yes, that's right, a month. Exactly 49 days separated Lin's breakout 25-point night and his season-ending injury, and yet it somehow became an era. Linsanity was rife with headlines so bad they were catchy, with stereotypes and t-shirts and crowds of reporters five deep surrounding a 23-year-old who'd barely given an interview all season.
It was feel-good drama, something out of a movie – for those first few weeks, at least. And then Mike D'Antoni left the Knicks, the embattled coach who'd saved his team by giving a Harvard-grad nobody a chance, and some of the luster faded. That wasn't how the story was supposed to go, and neither was the knee injury, but really, by late March, Lin was old news. Many were bored. Seventeen-point nights weren't enough to hold the attention of the masses; they'd invested in Lin because of his 38 points against Kobe, and they expected nothing less.
When a story like Jeremy Lin can leave people bored that quickly, it's a problem. When a weeks-long uptick can seem like an eternity, it's easy to see how short people's attention spans have become in sports. Sure, following Lin's progress was fun, but by banking on the quick phenomena, the spikes in performance that really can't be sustained, is to set oneself up for disappointment.
It's the same with Tim Tebow in the NFL – eventually he was going to lose, just as Lin's performance someday would taper off. Sports are beautiful, yes, a venue for thrills and even near-miracles, but they are in no way magical. These are still people out there, humans like you and me, and though performances like Lin's and Tebow's can temporarily defy logic, they can't ultimately redefine it.
That's why perspectives need to be altered. Sure, turning to stories about upstarts and underdogs might be more exciting than the predictable, than watching LeBron James and Kobe Bryant lead perennially playoff-bound teams. There's no fun in that, in knowing the outcome before it happens, and that's part of the allure of a player like Lin. In the back of everyone's mind, there are always the questions of how long this can last and what the outcome might be, and that keeps people riveted.
But for Timberwolves fans, there's a better story, arguably the best kind of narrative. It's the story of a player who's nudging his way into the conversation with the Kobes and LeBrons of the league, but his game still has the mystery theirs lacks. He's not yet a legitimate member of the NBA elite, both due to age and his team's record, but the story of Kevin Love might be one of the league's best.
For one, it's lasted. It started four years ago, when a good player was drafted out of UCLA. He remained good for several seasons, stuck on the league's worst team in a market where few noticed him. His development was both positive and predictable for those first three seasons, his contributions increasing every year. But in the past four months, Love has evolved in a way that's been amazing and yet not quite surprising. He's gone from good to great, entering the MVP conversation despite his team's late-season tanking. And that's why Love is different. He's done what no other potential MVP candidate has this year: he's prevented his team from being borderline terrible.
It's a story that has everything a bestseller needs: a record-setting March in which Love led the league in points, rebounds and three-pointers made, but which also coincided with Ricky Rubio's season-ending ACL injury and the death of his team's playoff hopes. It has a protagonist who's easy to identify with; Love is a decent guy—despite one accidental face-stomp—who's worked hard on his game, adding facets each season with hard work, through countless shots and strict diets and hours in the weight room. Things don't always go his way, and he more than anyone knows how tough the dichotomy between personal success and team struggles can be.
And with all that comes suspense. Some of it has died this season, as the Timberwolves slipped into last place in the Northwest division earlier this week, but there's a longer-term uncertainty. Love is signed in Minnesota for the next three years, with an option for a fourth. That fourth year is the question mark, the ultimatum. You get me a good team, get me into the playoffs, and I'll stay. It's a challenge to the Timberwolves' organization, to their fans to continue to make the Target Center feel like the home of a legitimate contender. But it's a trial for Love, too, as if he's telling himself that this high level of play must continue if the story is to end how it should.
Love isn't going to wow anyone with his dunks or flashy passes, and most NBA fans have known who he is for years. There's no way to pinpoint the beginning of his story, no moment at which people suddenly started watching. That doesn't make Love's story any less compelling, but perhaps it explains why it's never descended into frenzy. But take his 51-point night against the Western Conference's best team, Oklahoma City, on March 23 – that's as good of a beginning as any. That's the spike, the hook, but it's a logical one. No doubt Love will finish with 50 points again in his career, and probably several times. This story isn't going to taper off, and it's going to take a lot more than a coaching change or an injury or a blown shot at the playoffs to kill it.
Kevin Love can be a story, a real one. It will be longer than just a chapter, a story that people will remember in 10 years. It will have its pitfalls and peaks, many of which depend on the Timberwolves' success, but no matter what happens, Love's story is unlikely to be a letdown.
And after all, his name lends itself to ridiculous headlines, too.
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