Kevin Love always wanted to play football, a childhood aspiration diverted in part by a registered-nurse mother who feared he would get hurt.
Some 15 years later, the Timberwolves star is living out some of that dream nightly on NBA courts, playing the role of world’s tallest quarterback to teammate Corey Brewer’s fleet wideout in a successful and sometimes indefensible connection that has transformed the Wolves offense and perhaps even their season.
With just a twist of his body and a flick of his wrists, the league’s most efficient rebounder gathers a ball from the defensive backboard and propels it on an arc 70 or 80 feet down the floor with uncanny accuracy into Brewer’s flying and waiting hands.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m Jerry Rice and Joe Montana’s throwing it deep,” Brewer said.
Their collaboration has inspired a fast-paced offense that is second in the league in scoring. It produced a franchise-record 47 first-quarter points in a rout of the Lakers on Sunday in Los Angeles and a season-high 124 points in Wednesday’s victory over Cleveland.
That collaboration also has NBA old-timers remarking they haven’t seen anything like Love’s freakish outlet passes in two generations, not since a guy named Wes Unseld snapped the ball from his chest far down the court on his way to winning league MVP honors as a rookie in 1969 and leading the Washington Bullets to a championship a decade later.
It’s no coincidence that Love’s middle name is Wesley, chosen by his father, Stan, to honor his former pro teammate (even if Unseld’s given name is actually Westley). It’s also no coincidence that the old-timer character Love plays in Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving’s second “Uncle Drew” soft-drink commercial is named Wes.
Stan Love took his son to a basketball court when the boy was 8, pointed to the painted area under the basket and told him he could play his own physical version of football in that space as much as he liked.
As he grew older, Love adopted in his training routine something of a trade secret his father learned from Unseld: the fingertip pushup, an exercise that strengthens the hands and wrists.
Unseld did them when he was a teenager because a ninth-grade coach believed in the exercise, but he doesn’t credit it for a skill that has become the gold standard by which every good-intentioned outlet pass since the 1970s has been measured.
He credits that ability instead to sheer survival instinct: Cut as an eighth-grader, Unseld played in the ninth grade for powerful Louisville Seneca High School with Dave Cosby and Mike Redd, two of the more acclaimed players ever to come out of Kentucky. He practiced rebounding and learned to snap the ball ahead to them quickly so they could do the rest.
By doing so, he said he looked good enough to make the team. A Basketball Hall of Fame playing career and work as an NBA coach and general manager followed.
“It’s not a trick,” Unseld said from the Baltimore school he runs with his wife. “It’s a learned skill of just anticipating and having a little imagination when and where you throw it. You also have to develop some skill to get the ball to where you want it to be.”
Quarterback in shorts
Love developed the ability to fling the ball accurately 80 feet away by playing three grades up with his brother and his brother’s friends when he was young. He wasn’t strong enough to get his shot to the basket, so he learned how to fling it from his chest precise enough to find the basket.
“That’s how that touch came about,” Love said.
The technique came from youthful ingenuity. The inspiration and desire came from the forbidden after he and his parents attended a Portland, Ore., high school game when he was little and a player suffered a frightening neck injury.