SAN FRANCISCO – Timberwolves two-time All-Star Kevin Love had just pushed his room-service cart into the hotel hallway Thursday afternoon when someone else — team President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders — came knocking on his door.
Make that three-time All-Star Kevin Love, and now first-time starter.
Saunders and General Manager Milt Newton came calling to inform Love that fans worldwide voted him into next month’s NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans as one of the Western Conference’s three frontcourt starters.
“To be considered among the elite, you know, my joke was, ‘Hey, I’m popular now!’ ”Love said. “It’s very, I guess, humbling starting in the All-Star Game.”
Love moved from fourth in the last balloting results made public a week ago into the third and final starter’s spot when Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard dropped below both Love and Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin before the league announced the East and West starters Thursday evening.
Love will start alongside Griffin and Oklahoma City superstar Kevin Durant after the Wolves orchestrated a late get-out-the-vote campaign, encouraging fans through contests and promotions to vote for him via text message, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and on NBA.com. He will be the first Wolves All-Star starter since Kevin Garnett in 2007.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Love said. “I was in disbelief up until it came across the screen and the NBA tweeted it. It was just a really surreal moment.”
Just two hours earlier, Love said he was certain he hadn’t been voted a starter, but said he also was certain Western Conference coaches would vote him into the game as a reserve for the third time.
“I guess I was hoping for the best but preparing for the worst,” Love said.
Fans voted Golden State’s Steph Curry and injured Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant in as the West’s starting backcourt while also picking Miami’s LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Indiana’s Paul George, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and New York’s Carmelo Anthony as the East’s starters.
Love made the 2011 All-Star Game when Commissioner David Stern named him an injury replacement for Yao Ming, and he made the 2012 All-Star Game when Western coaches voted him in as a reserve. He wasn’t chosen last season because he played only 18 games after breaking his hand twice in three months.
This time, he made it as a starter.
“It definitely has a different feeling to it,” Love said. “Each of my three has been a little different. It’s kind of a slew of different ways to get yourself in, but to be voted in is very big because the fans are what drives this game. For the fans to reach out and vote me in and to play amongst my peers who are very well-liked and popular around the world, it really means a lot.”
Love made one promise when he gets introduced as a starter.
“Well, I know one thing’s for sure,” he said. “I’m not going to be dancing when my name is called. As a kid, you obviously grow up dreaming of being in the NBA, dreaming of being an All-Star player. But to be an All-Star starter … I keep using the word surreal. It just hasn’t quite set in yet.”
Before Thursday’s announcement was made, Wolves coach Rick Adelman said there’s no doubt Love deserves to be an All Star.
“He’s had a great year,” Adelman said. “There are a lot of good forwards in the West, but he has been the most consistent guy of all the guys. I don’t know where we’d be without him without the year he has had.”
Love is fourth in the league in scoring (25 ppg), second in rebounding (13 rpg) and fifth among forwards in assists (4.0 apg) and yet his team is 20-21 and chasing the West’s eighth and final playoff spot.
“If you go by stats, Kevin Love has the stats,” TNT analyst Kenny Smith said on the network’s Thursday show that unveiled the starters. “I prefer to reward winning, so I was surprised in that regard. If Minnesota was in a solid playoff spot, then I would understand it. But his numbers are beyond All-Star numbers. Those are big-boy numbers.”