Labor of Love: Kevin Love's Lifelong Drive for a Championship

Kevin Love is willing to do whatever it takes to win a championship.

Editor's NoteSTACK had the opportunity to spend a day with Kevin Love during the Cleveland Cavaliers regular season, before he was sidelined by the Boston Celtics' Kelly Olynyk. Similarly, this profile below was completed and went to press shortly before the injury occurred during the Cavs' first round playoff sweep of the Celtics, which is why the separated shoulder and resulting surgery are not mentioned in the copy below. 

Part of being good at something is acknowledging that you can improve at it. If you're great, you can get better. If you're an all-star, you can still find ways to grow your game.

Even if you're a three-time all-star, like Kevin Love. In his six and a half years in the NBA, Love has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments. He's the first player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob McAdoo to average 26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists per game, which he did last season with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Prior to joining the Cleveland Cavaliers this season, he made gains in nearly every statistical category with each passing season. Love says that's by design.

"Every off-season, I try to add more things to my game and create better habits for myself," Love says. "That could be how I approach strength and conditioning. It could be yoga or improving a basketball skill or just following better eating habits. I always try to add a thing or two during the off-season.

"This [past] summer, I really focused on getting my body leaner," Love adds.

The change was evident the moment Love set foot on the Cavs' home court at Quicken Loans Arena. Once barrel-chested, Love now looks downright sinewy at 6-foot-10, 243 pounds—about 20 pounds less than his weight as an undergrad at UCLA. Although much of his weight loss came in 2011 between his third and fourth seasons, he got leaner and stronger before his Cavs debut through a six-days-per-week training regimen (he takes Sundays off) and eating more frequent meals.

"This summer I focused on eating every couple of hours," Love says. "For me, that means keeping my metabolism high and making sure that I was refueled after every workout. When I did that, my body felt better. My recovery time was faster and I didn't feel like I was starving myself out there. My body responded to it very well."

Locked In 

Kevin Love Shooting Practice

Late on a Thursday afternoon, Love is shooting jumpers from the wing. He takes a pass from Cavs assistant coach Phil Handy, steps over a cone and to his right, then elevates, releases, and—swish. Bucket.

Stand and watch long enough and you'll see Love consistently sink eight or nine out of every 10 shots he takes from every spot on the court. But both Handy and Love think there's room for improvement.

"With Kevin's feet, you know, he has a tendency to be a little narrow sometimes, so we try to get his base a bit wider, so when he gets into his shot, he's in more of a power position," Handy says.

Handy watches every shot Love takes, looking for a few key indicators: Are his feet set shoulder-width apart? When he turns, is he turning his entire body and squaring up with the hoop? Is he finishing each shot upright and not leaning back?

Handy wants Love taking and making at least 100 shots every day, and often many more. "Fifty 2's and fifty 3's—that's just the bare minimum," Handy says.

Today, Love is shooting after a three-hour practice and before a short in-season lifting session. Through a window in the gym, you can see it's getting dark outside.

Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that months after his arrival in Cleveland, Love still hasn't seen much of the city. On a typical day, he travels from his apartment to the Cavs practice facility at Cleveland Clinic Courts and back. He doesn't have a favorite restaurant or a spot to hang out. "It's really just about focusing on the battle that's about to happen that night, or the next night," he says. "I'm pretty locked in."

Love is laser focused for a reason. Despite all the individual accolades he earned in Minnesota, none of his Timberwolves teams ever reached the NBA playoffs. His trade to the re-LeBron'ed Cavaliers offers the best opportunity he's ever had to contend for a title. His role has changed from sole superstar on a developing team to one of three superstars on a team that's expected to win—and perhaps to win it all. His individual stats are lower, but the team's potential is far greater.

"The personal stats don't concern me at all, as long as we're winning," Love says. "I knew that I was going to have to sacrifice coming here. I think a lot of players would do it, whether it was contract-wise, money-wise, shots, stats—no matter what it was. We know at the end of the day we want to win a championship. So we just want to do that by any means."

No Plays Off

Kevin Love Workout

Love knows from experience that championships don't come easy, even when you're expected to win them—especially when you're expected to win them.

He learned that lesson the hard way back in high school in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Love was one of the most highly touted players in the nation before he played a single minute of high school ball, thanks to his 6-foot-8 frame and pro-level lineage (his father, Stan Love, played for the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Bullets). But in that first year, his team underperformed, exiting the playoffs in the second round.

Love led Lake Oswego to the state championship game in each of the next three years, but the Lakers were able to win only one, during his junior year. As a senior, despite playing on a team that he calls "more closely knit than any other I have ever been on," he lost the title matchup 58-54.

"That was a tough pill to swallow," Love says. "It just shows the difficulty of winning it all. It's tough at any level. A lot of things have to go your way. You have to be well coached, but more than anything, you have to be dialed in each and every play. You can't take a play off when things matter that much."

It goes without saying that expectations are high in Cleveland. With three max-contract players—Love, LeBron and rising star Kyrie Irving—the Cavs were picked by many to win the title. But when they flirted with a sub-.500 record near mid-season, some observers were ready to hit the panic button.

Not Love.

"It's a cliché to say this, but this season is a marathon, not a sprint. The team's development is going to continue to get better," Love says. "The willingness to work is there. The camaraderie in the locker room is there. We have a great training staff and a great coaching staff, and the players really want to get better. We know that the end goal is going to take a lot of work, but we are willing to get there."

Hard work, Love knows, is the only way his new team will get where they want to go. No team is going to hand them anything—especially not in a league packed with both hungry young talent (Portland, Golden State, Atlanta) and established winners (San Antonio, Miami, Dallas), all of whom are eager to take Cleveland's new "Big 3" down a peg.

"We know we're going to get everyone's best shot, every night," Love says. "Because of the talent we have, we're going to pack arenas, and the crowds are going to get into it. It's going to make for great basketball. That's what you play for."

Kevin's Countdown 

On game days, Love follows a precise eating regimen that delivers muscle-supporting protein, energy-delivering carbs and other helpful nutrients. Here's his routine when tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.

2:30 p.m.

Pregame Meal #1: 8-ounce chicken breast (lean protein source), brown rice or sweet potato (carbs for energy), side salad or vegetable (vitamins and nutrients).

5:00 p.m.

Body ArmorPregame Meal #2: "It's kind of a mash," Love says. He mixes a cup of shredded wheat (slow-burning carbs) with almond butter (protein and healthy fats) and jam or apple sauce (carbs mostly from simple sugars, which burn faster and provide easily accessible energy). He pairs the mash with a cup of coffee.

 

7:30 p.m.

In-Game Fueling: "I drink Body Armour throughout the game," Love says. "The coconut water in it has potassium, which helps replenish me. And it tastes good."

Halftime

Mid-Game Fueling: If he feels like he needs a boost, Love drinks a small caffeinated beverage, and eats a packet of Justin's Nut Butter.

Chocolate MilkAfter the Game

Post-Game Refuel: Love kick-starts his recovery by drinking chocolate milk soon after he walks off the court. Later, he'll eat 16 ounces of salmon or whitefish, paired with veggies and fruit.



Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: BASKETBALL TRAINING | KEVIN LOVE