Q&A: Kevin Love on life outside bubble, LeBron James and redefining himself

Dan Woike
·12 min read
FILE - In this March 4, 2020, file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers' Kevin Love (0) drives against the Boston Celtics during an NBA basketball game in Cleveland. The teams that didn't qualify for the restart of the NBA season at Walt Disney World could begin voluntary workouts Wednesday, Sept. 23, to start preparing for their next game — whenever that is. Love said it was "paramount" for the team to get together and make up for lost time. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)
Cavaliers forward Kevin Love drives against Celtics forward Semi Ojeleye during an NBA basketball game on March 4 in Cleveland. (Tony Dejak / Associated Press)

The Cleveland Cavaliers were one of the eight teams the NBA didn’t have pack and join them in Orlando, Fla., for the NBA’s reset. So players such as star forward Kevin Love had to sit and watch his league go on without him.

Love wrote about similar feelings in a recent article for the Player’s Tribune, where he disclosed the depression he battled during an injury-filled season in 2013. It’s the second time Love has been candid with his mental health battles, which included an in-game panic attack in 2018.

He, along with players such as San Antonio Spurs star DeMar DeRozan, have been open about these fights in an effort to reduce the stigma associated with mental health problems in athletes.

With Love and the Cavaliers opening full-team workouts in Cleveland this last week, he took time out from a busy day of nothing — he was quarantining — to talk about NBA life on the outside of the bubble, watching LeBron James operate and redefining himself in the wake of a pandemic.

Here are excerpts from a question-and-answer session with Love:

You had to watch the league go on with your peers, your friends, without you. What's it been like to observe a league that you're part of and not be a part of it?

"I think that's the hardest part probably. It's just not playing meaningful games. I was talking to JJ Reddick about it. I think it was his first time missing the playoffs. And he's like, 'I'm pissed.' He's like, we went down to the bubble. And, you know, we were right there. But at the end of the day, we didn't make the playoffs. And like [it’s not] being able to play in meaningful games, where like, you're actually laying it all out there. It can get lost in you sometimes is an 82-game season, even in the spirit of competition, like in the months where it drags on like January and February. … It's a different mind-set. But this, with how abruptly the season ended, especially, it had been my 12th season, it was tough for me too, you know, just absorb that and think, ‘OK, I might not be playing basketball for maybe a full year.’ And, you know, that's like a doomsday-type scenario. So that was tough. As a fan, it's awesome watching these games, but like, you want to be in it so bad."

Is FOMO (fear of missing out) the right way to put it?

"Definitely. Yeah, for lack of a better term for it, it totally is FOMO. We're in the bottom eight teams, and we just wanted to be a part of it. We'll never be able to look back and say like, ‘You know, y'all remember back in 2020, remember back when the pandemic hit, COVID-19, and this is what happened?’ But now, it's just been a weird time, a different time, all the way across trying to navigate even for the guys or teams that didn't make it to the bubble."

So what does life look like in terms of working out and trying to play at a time when you're mostly not supposed to?

"Yeah, it's really hard because well, you know, I've been out in New York where initially we got hit really hard. You couldn't open gyms, couldn't get into gyms. There's nothing you could do. So for me, it was just, you know, lifting, making sure that I'm keeping my body in shape, I've learned the hard way it's a lot easier to stay in shape and to get back into shape. So, you know, the Peloton and all that.

"But no, I think if anything, it's made me fall in love with the game again. I mean, when something like that is taken away from you, and there's no start date in sight it's a weird holding pattern that you've never really been used to you. Just this has never happened before. So it's unprecedented times. And so the measures for it are different. Is the season going to start right after the new year? Is it going to start in March? You just don't know. So you just have to keep yourself ready for when that time comes. So you're not too far behind the eight-ball because there's just nothing like playing five-on-five basketball.

"That's why this will be great. I can do all the individual workouts I want, which I have been doing a few times a week. Plus, you know, lifting five times a week making sure that high-end cardio, low-end cardio stuff, but not peaking right now and killing myself because it's not like the season is going to start in a month or two, but being in good enough shape to where if I need to turn it up, it's not going to take me very long."

As a high-level player, you've had a schedule, been able to count on games on these days, practices on these days and all that. What’s like being stripped of that?

"The unknown, in itself, gives you anxiety. And that panic is all the way across the board. But when it comes down to especially, you know it kind of transcends, but as an athlete, we're such creatures of habit, and we're so routine-oriented and routine-based that it almost makes you like, have the jitters a little bit to have that routine [taken away]. We'll get to this, but I said in my article, like having that stripped away from you, for a part of me, that sense of identity, a little bit is taken away. And that's tough. So I had to take a step back and be like, ‘OK, how can I … how can I have forward motion, forward progress and still chase the game and whatever way that I can so it's like, I haven't missed a step when I come back?’"

Has this break been good in ways where you have been able to fill your time with things you didn't realize you could?

"For sure. You know, I've been able to work really on a number of other things because there's so much time you have to fill throughout the day. Even in the summertime you would typically have your routine down so much that you're able to time it out. You plan so far in advance, but now the unknown doesn't allow for a plan or to have a real schedule how it relates to your work or how it relates to you. It's filling [time]. I do a lot, a ton of reading. If I'm just taking a load off and catching up on my shows and movies. I journal. In the last three months I've learned and caught up on a lot. And drank the best wine that I have since I started with that.

"Oh, and then like relationships, too. I think that's the biggest thing. Just been focusing on that. Because I think early on, it's like, 'Man, I can only do so many zoom calls. I can only do so many facetimes.' It was actually getting out. There were times when we people were comfortable and we knew that people were safe, like getting out and actually seeing people. In a typical summer, I wouldn't necessarily have as much time to do that. None of us really. So that was another thing, and then just working on myself and working on my body and making sure I’m straight."

As specific as you can be, what are you most looking forward to about getting back on the court with your teammates?

"It's just competition. I was listening to I think it's cool, you get a inside look, and you typically do like there was, you know, Mike Malone in the Western Conference playoffs. I saw his pregame speech. I saw [Erik] Spoelstra and he was just telling his guys to find other means or other ways to compete. So for me, it's like, just get out there and compete. And that's what I meant about like missing out and playing in meaningful games. It’s just when every stage of every game — every quarter, every whatever — presents a new challenge like that spirit of competition. I think it’s really just getting out there and playing five-on-fives and talking s--- and just like just letting it go and getting winded and being … man, it's just that love of the game. I'm getting at that. I really miss that in the spirit of competition too. I think it's what drives me and what drives a lot of guys in this league."

What’s it like watching LeBron lead a championship run after going through so many playoff pushes with him?

"It's unique, this pertains to everybody but especially with him, because he feeds off the crowd so much. That's what gives him the lifeblood, to really put on a performance and show out. Like he knows that the crowd is there whether he's home or away and he's playing into that, feeding off of that.

Sorry to interrupt you, so like when LeBron says last night that his only regret was that AD’s game-winning shot wasn't at Staples Center? That's not pandering?

"By the way, I didn't even know he said that. So yeah, that's what I mean. That would have been a major moment for AD as well. And I think it breeds and adds I guess more [in front of a crowd], I don't know if you want to say self-confidence, self-assuredness or whatever it may be. A defining shot like that might be the biggest shot in his career right? Western Conference finals he hits a three, plays unbelievable games, playing crazy in the first two games in this series. So that's kind of what I mean.

"So to see Bron, you know, go through this and like, lift his game up. … For LeBron standards, like he didn't play great to start out those first eight games. But once you got into the playoffs, he’s been on an absolute tear. But, you know, LeBron always lifts his play in the playoffs, and I think those 16 first-place votes that he got [for MVP], he just used that.

"He's like, ‘I probably wouldn't have won it. But I deserve more first place votes,’ which I believe is true. And I think a lot of people would agree with that. Giannis (Antetokounmpo), OK, he won the MVP for sure. Yeah. But I don't think anybody's debating that, but he deserved more first-place votes. But he, almost like Jordan in “The Last Dance.” I watched it again when I got back here. I had the seven days (of quarantine). And he was like, anything that he could reach out and be like, ‘OK, I'm going to use that and be pissed off.’ And Bron even said he's pissed off. So he'll just use that as your motivation. And Bron never needs more motivation. But he finds a way to spring that out as much as he can."

Eventually when you’re as great as Michael Jordan or LeBron, you’re going to run out of hurdles where you have to start inventing them?

"So he's won the MVP four times. Yeah. What I thought was funny they put it up a. I'm rewatching the game. They put up a thing where it was the all-time great players that have come second in MVP votes. And it’s Jordan, Larry Bird, and LeBron. Like Jordan and Bron are those guys that they could, you can literally put up there every year and they could win it. You eventually have to pass the torch."

For a while it was like Gregg Popovich and Coach of the Year?

"Every year. He just sets such a high standard. I think Giannis will get to that point too. And I'm not taking away the MVP from Giannis. I think he is the MVP. I don't think there's a debate in that. I think LeBron was closer than indicated. I think Giannis will get to a point where he's gonna set such a high standard, I feel like he has almost already that you know? People are going to look and say ‘OK, who's next? Who else?’ Like is Luka [Doncic] the next guy?

I'm reading the piece that you wrote. It seems like you're doing pretty well with all of this. Have you learned anything about yourself and adaptability?

"This time has been trying, really, for everyone. I've been thinking a lot about life. And I didn't really focus on it too much in my article but I sit back and think a lot about regret. And sometimes that can lead me into quite a spiral. But as far as how I'm doing now, I think I just have the resources and I've been able, as you said, that adaptability, I've been able to find ways and know when my triggers are happening, and I'm able to combat whatever it is. That would in the past have sent me off for weeks and weeks at a time. But, I think if anything, this has been a great time for self-reflection, has been a great time to work. Even on myself. I mentioned relationships, I mentioned, you know, other hobbies, not wrapping up my entire identity into one thing in that unhealthy way as I mentioned in the article. As far as this time has gone, you know, I'm not, I guess, unhappy with it because I've been able to focus on other things, and I do have other things to work on that are bigger than me."