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Watching Love is great... but not against my team

by: Jaime Valdez, 
Kevin Love grapples with Oregon’s Maarty Luenen during last week’s game in Eugene. Love led the Bruins to wins over the Ducks and Beavers.

I remember the last time the Lake Oswego boys basketball team played at Oregon City High School. It was one of the more entertaining high school games I have been to. A packed house featuring two of the best teams in the state, a dramatic finish and a vintage performance from one of the best players in Oregon history.

Kevin Love had 44 points and 15 rebounds in the game, the final two coming when he drained a pair of clutch free throws to seal a three-point victory.

I also remember the game because of the female Pioneers fan sitting behind me who, for the majority of the second half, kept shouting in my ear 'I can't believe Kevin Love has zero fouls!' whenever a referee jogged by.

Over the years I have developed a well-defined palate for appreciating boisterous fans at sporting events. And my favorite fans, even more than those who can routinely make close calls from 500 feet away, are those who combine volume with ignorance.

The woman behind me fit this description to a tee.

As was the case in many of the games Love competed in during his tenure at Lake Oswego, he was simply playing at a different level than the nine other people on the floor. Even when the game got close in the final minutes, it was evident that, as long as Love was on the court, Lake Oswego was not going to lose.

And he knew this. He knew it before winning the opening tip. It was true that he, in fact, didn't have a foul until he was called for a charge with under a minute to play in the game. Because that was the plan. Love admitted as much after the contest saying: 'Personally, I wanted to save my fouls and then be more of a presence in the second half.'

When the Pioneers received the ball close to the basket or slashed to the hoop, Love held his ground and put his arms straight up. He didn't reach, he didn't swat, he just stood there and, as a result of being taller than any of his opponents and intimidating on reputation alone, he still managed to alter shots. If the Pioneers scored on him, so be it but, because Love stayed out of foul trouble and was able to play for the entire game, the Lakers built a double-digit lead heading into the final quarter.

Sure there was a bump here and there that may have warranted a whistle but nothing egregious.

But to the woman behind me and an increasing number of Oregon City fans sitting around her, the sole fact that Kevin Love did not have a foul through 31 minutes of a 32-minute game was inexcusable and reeked of favoritism.

This was just the most vivid example of what became a recurring theme while Love built his high school legacy. Fans would scream as Love would record a clean block and send an opposing guard careening into the boards without a whistle. But they had no problem turning a blind eye to the no-call when two players were wrapped around Love's arms like fronds of seaweed as he attempted to elevate for a dunk.

Now, with all of that being said, fast forward to last Thursday night. I watched in horror as Love dismantled my beloved Oregon Ducks.

It hasn't happened with as much frequency as it did during his high school years but, on this night, Love was on a different playing field once again.

He was in position for every rebound, was unstoppable within five feet of the hoop and let the Ducks and their raucous fans know that, as long as he was in the game, they didn't have a puncher's chance.

For the first time, I was actively rooting against Love. Not because of the reasons that the media beat into the ground in the days leading up to the game but because I wanted Oregon to win.

I groaned as Love subtly hip-checked Maarty Luenen, causing his lay-up to spin off the rim, I pounded my hand against the cushion of my couch as Love went over Joevan Catron's back to retrieve a rebound and, with a minute to go in the game I yelled at my television. 'I can't believe Kevin Love only has two fouls!'

What had I become?

I realized, as UCLA put the finishing touches on another devastating Ducks defeat, that this is what fans of other Oregon high school teams had to deal with for four years.

I wanted Kevin Love off the court as quickly as possible. I wanted the pain to stop. And every bump and lowered shoulder looked like a deliberate and malicious offense. After the loss settled in, I could view the game without my yellow and green-colored glasses.

It was just Love being Love, dominating an overmatched opponent. It just happened that, this time, he was dominating my team and I hated him for it.