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Happy for Cleveland, happier for Love

The former LO star shakes off criticism to earn a memorable first ring

DAVID BLAIR - Kevin Love, who won a state championship with Lake Oswego High School, recently won his first NBA title with the Cleveland Cavaliers.As a Portland Trailblazer fan whose fourth favorite professional sport is basketball, I turned on Game 1 of this year’s NBA Finals genuinely curious to discover who I’d find myself rooting for.

The answer manifested itself quickly and the intensity of my rooting interest steadily increased as the series progressed, to the extent that my celebration as Kyrie Irving knocked down his cold-blooded three-pointer in Game 7 rivaled some of my biggest outbursts directed toward the San Francisco Giants or 49ers.

Of all the intriguing storylines that this series presented fans with, I was ultimately won over by LeBron James’ quest to bring a title to his almost comically hard-luck hometown of Cleveland.

And as Golden State’s final shot missed the target and James burst into tears while being swarmed by his teammates, I was pleased for myriad reasons. I was happy for James and I was happy for Cleveland and I felt a certain amount of schadenfreude toward the brash and overly confident Golden State players and fans.

The defining shot of the postgame celebration became James being embraced by the first teammate that got to him, and I was happy for him as well.

That player was Lake Oswego High School graduate Kevin Love. Over the years, I’ve tried to stay as objective as possible about Love, avoiding making any long term predictions about his college or professional prospects.

Watching Love in high school was like watching a teenager walk into his little brother’s pick-up basketball game and hold court. As a 16-year-old, he had NBA-like rebounding and passing abilities and didn’t get overly agitated at gimmicky and physical defenses thrown at him by opposing teams, trying anything to deny him the ball.

While Love has never been in the glare of the media as much as his teammate James, he has endured plenty of criticism throughout his amateur and professional playing careers.

As a high-schooler, he learned to deal with the praise and adoration of Lake Oswego fans and youth players who would form a line outside the locker room following home and away games. He also learned how to tune out raucous fans and jabs that come with being a son of a former NBA player from an affluent suburb.

In college, members of the media were skeptical that his skills would translate to the highest level and he received harsh treatment from University of Oregon fans who had hoped he would choose the Ducks over UCLA.

As a professional, the same critics wondered if the Minnesota Timberwolves had selected him too high and, after a few seasons in the NBA where he put up eye-popping stats but failed to reach the playoffs, more of the blame seemed to be directed toward Love than with the organization that became synonymous with draft day blunders.

When Love was traded to Cleveland, he was comfortable fitting into a new role alongside superstars like James and Irving but, after an injury knocked him from last year’s playoffs and a cold shooting stretch in this year’s postseason contributed to the Cavaliers falling behind 3-1, Love became a scapegoat.

I’d like to think that, even if I didn’t have the background of having watched Love play at a level perhaps unmatched by an Oregon high schooler, I’d still have felt happy for him getting a championship ring.

He has been an easy target to criticize over the years and has emerged to play at a level that even many of his biggest supporters probably didn’t anticipate. And certainly no one could have anticipated that Lake Oswego’s baby-faced center would be such a dynamic and self-effacing commercial actor.