Editor’s Note: Kevin Love was made available for this interview while promoting Shock Doctor mouth guards.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love is coming off a vindicating title win for the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 2016-17 season just around the corner. He joined Fear the Sword’s Carter Rodriguez for a phone interview to talk about the upcoming season, the Cavaliers roster, his partnership with Shock Doctor mouth guards and why he always wears one, and the pressure of trying to win Cleveland it’s first major championship in 52 years.
Carter Rodriguez: You’ve had just a ton of upheaval in your last two offseasons. In your first season with the team, you’d just been traded there, there’s a rookie head coach and an entirely overhauled roster. Last year, you were rehabbing pretty much the whole summer. How different was your approach this summer, now that you’re able to just focus on your game and the team itself?
Kevin Love: Uh, very different. As you just mentioned, for different reasons, there wasn’t much, certainty in how things were going to play out. In the first offseason in getting traded, I didn’t know where I was going, didn’t know if the trade was going to happen, [and] there was that little grace period where if you were drafted, a certain amount of time had to go by before it could actually take place. I had to learn the new city, come here and get a place among many other things.
And then last year, last summer, I was hurt, I wasn’t able to do contact really until the second or third week of October. I couldn’t do much with my shoulder, couldn’t train the way I wanted to and basically did all rehab the entire summer. I had to sit there and watch the Finals, which is tough, and then I was basically cleared to play a full game the first game of the season in Chicago.
This offseason was a lot different to where I was able to get back to exactly what I wanted to do, knew what I wanted to get accomplished, and it was an easy transition coming off of the Finals to get back into my routine that I had basically every summer before [the last two summers] and that was basically to have a really scheduled and well-documented and put-into-place schedule of working out the entire summer.
CR: What instance or memory led to you swearing by always using a mouth guard?
KL: Well, I guess two things. One, when I was very young I’d get hit in the mouth whether I was playing my dad who always had very sharp elbows or was playing up two or three grades with my brother. I was always super aggressive, and I guess that’s what led to me wearing a mouth guard early on.
As I got older, I played with a mouth guard throughout high school, college. And then in the NBA, I had adult braces when I was in my early 20s. If you’ve ever had braces at any point in your life and you get hit in the mouth, it’s coming through your gums, you have no protection, it’s not fun.
So this has always hit very, very close to me as far as wearing mouth guards to protect yourself. Basketball players young and old I feel should all wear mouth guards because I was that young kid getting a bloody lip. I’m still getting hit in the mouth today, whether i’m playing inside or outside, so it’s definitely something you have to take notice of.
Last year, over five million teeth got knocked out during youth sports, and even today at any age, one-third of basketball-related injuries are above the neck . . . a lot of these guys are going to the hoop and getting hit in the face and they’ve got their mouthguard there to protect them. It’s definitely a big deal to be protected and knowing you can go out there and still be aggressive.
CR: Funny enough, your smile has become a big part of your brand. I can’t think of anyone who’s had quite the brand transformation that you have. You lost all that weight, got yourself a nice little haircut and now you’ve got that smile and you’re modeling for Banana Republic now.
KL: Right, it’s definitely worked out well, and minus a few teeth, I don’t know if it’d quite look the same.
CR: There’s only one Strahan that can get away with the gap.
KL: Exactly. Hey, he makes it work but I can’t say it’d be the same for me.
CR: Back to basketball, you were obviously an integral part of a team that won Cleveland its first title in 52 years. Now that you can kind of look back on it, how palpable was the pressure to win for the city and how much did that factor into everyone’s psyche?
KL: It was huge. It’s funny because as you know, and as we just talked about the year before, Kyrie was hurt, I was hurt and we went through a kind of a run of injuries and fought the battle of attrition. But this year we were relatively unscathed, and got through the playoffs with nothing significant that was going to have anybody miss time.
There was definitely a lot of pressure on us, especially when we got down 3-1. We were thinking okay, “if we win Game 5, and take it back to Cleveland, we’re not losing in Cleveland, it’s just not happening,” especially since it was the one-year anniversary that the Warriors had won on our home floor, our fans are just not gonna let us lose. Then we figured if, y’know, between the Warriors and the Spurs, [they were] pretty much historically good in the regular season on their home floor, but we feel like Game 7, anything could happen. If we keep it close, and it becomes a two, three, or four-minute game, anything could happen.
So I think, yeah, there was a lot of pressure on us as well as the Warriors, and it kind of added so much that Believeland came out, we haven’t had this win in 52 years, Jim Brown and the whole deal, but we felt like if we just made it that 2-3 minute game, we’d have a chance.
I always tell people, I remember one of the timeouts coming in the late 4th quarter and I come to the bench and I look to the side of me and I see J.R., I see Bron, I see Tristan next to me on my left, Kyrie to my left and Coach Lue comes in and I just remember the sense of calm between us five playing and Coach Lue, and I thought to myself: “We’re gonna win this game.”
We made so many big plays down the stretch that ultimately helped us win the game. There was definitely a lot of pressure, but we were able to get out of our heads and overcome that, and like you said, brought the state of Ohio and the city of Cleveland their first major sports championship in 52 years.
CR: The way I like to phrase it is they’re never going to show that Cleveland misery montage ever again because of what you guys did.
KL: Ever again. It’s a beautiful thing.
CR: J.R. Smith’s contract is still unresolved, Delly left in the offseason to go to the Bucks, Mo retired, and the team obviously very much wants J.R. there, but the team seems really, really confident in your two young guards, Kay Felder and Jordan McRae. What is it about those two guards that make you guys have the belief that you seem to have in them?
KL: What I love about them is that they’re both workhorses. Kay is pretty soft spoken but he loves the game, Jordan is very much the same way. He’s long and wiry, he put on some good muscle this summer. [He’s worked on] his game, his inbetween game, learning to make passes, those little short roll passes, kickouts, getting to the lane, taking his open shot, he’s learning the game so quick and so fast this year that I think both of the guys are really going to be able to help us.
Having so many veterans, and adding veterans like Mike Dunleavy and Birdman, having Champ (James Jones), LeBron, RJ and Channing and those type of guys on the team is only going to help accelerate the process for those guys. I think we’re very confident in that, we have a great coaching staff and those guys know exactly what we want, and the beautiful thing about Kay and Jordan is that they have the ball in their hands so much, it’s a lot faster, I mentioned the accelerated process, it’s a lot quicker, and you have to learn so much faster having the ball in your hands and making decisions. So, it’s a lot of film work, a lot of time getting extra reps up with our player development guys, and I think those guys are really going to help as well.
I do think J.R. will be back, we’re happy for Delly, we wish he was in a Cavs uniform but we have a number of guys on our team that are like the lifeblood for us, and J.R. is one of them and we have a lot of guys who are going to help us.
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