Stan Love: 'Life is good. I've been lucky'
Stan Love is 70 years old now, far from his halcyon days as one of the greatest cagers ever to wear the lemon and green of the University of Oregon.
Can it really be that the slender forward who went on to play four NBA seasons with the Baltimore Bullets and Los Angeles Lakers has become a septuagenarian?
"I don't feel it," says Love, more well-known as the brother of Mike Love of the Beach Boys and the father of Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers. "Honestly, I never thought I'd make it this far."
On his birthday in April, Love stayed at his Lake Oswego home with his wife of 33 years, Karen, to celebrate his birthday. They cooked tacos for dinner and were joined by their other son, Collin, daughter-in-law Annie and grandson Aksel, then seven months old.
Collin brought a surprise gift, courtesy of Kevin — a brand-new $105,000 Tesla Model X.
"It's an unbelievable car," Stan says. "Collin — he works at Tesla — brought it over with a bow on it."
Actually, it was a replica of sorts — the 2019 model. Stan eventually will get the 2020 rendition.
"Kevin wanted me to see something on my birthday," Stan says. "Within a month, we get the new version."
The 6-9 Love weighs about 230, 15 pounds more than his playing weight with the Bullets and Lakers, perhaps 20 more than he weighed while terrorizing opponents at McArthur Court for the Ducks from 1968-71. He's lean, but not as mean a machine as he once was. Two years ago, he was diagnosed with diabetes.
"I deal with it every day," says Love, whose exercise these days is limited to rides on the stationary bike and walks with the dogs. "But I feel good. Everything else is fine."
Love grew up in Baldwin Hills in West Los Angeles, the fourth of six children to Milt — a union sheet metal worker — and Glee Love. Stan's mother was a renowned singer who played the piano. Brother Mike, now 78, was into surf music and started a band that went beyond legendary. Sister Maureen, 75, lives in Lake Oswego and plays the harp with Pink Martini.
"In our living room when I was growing up were a cello, a harp, a Steinway piano and other instruments," Stan says. "We'd get together and sing. My mother pushed the arts. I watched opera at Hollywood Bowl at age 12. I like music, and I can carry a tune, but I don't play any instruments."
But Love played basketball, and very well. He was a three-year starter for Steve Belko at Oregon and a two-time first-team all-Pac-8 selection, a swashbuckling big man who could shoot and score and rebound with the best in the college game.
Love had a sensational senior season, averaging 24.6 points and 11.3 rebounds while shooting .518 from the field. When he departed in 1971, he was the Ducks' leading career scorer. Today, in an era of 3-point shots and freshman eligibility, he still stands seventh on the UO career scoring list.
Belko's nickname was "Mad Dog," and he was an old-school coach, a taskmaster, as were many in his day.
"Our Mac Court crowds were loud, but he would scream louder than any coach you ever heard," Love says. "A couple of times my sophomore year, I had to tell him, 'We can't handle the crowd noise and have you yell at us like this.' Once we came to an understanding about that, we got along real well."
Love played on some decent Oregon teams, featuring the likes of Bill Drozdiak, Billy Gaskins, Larry Holliday, Rusty Blair and Doug "Cowboy" Little.
"I had some great teammates, and we were competitive," says Love, who led the Ducks to a 17-9 overall record and a third-place finish (at 8-6) in the Pac-8 as a senior in 1970-71. "It was a fascinating time to go to college. It was during the Vietnam War, and we were all trying to stay in school so we didn't get drafted.
"The Black Panthers were on campus, which was kind of fun. They liked me because I was the leading scorer — that got me some 'cred.' The music of that era was great. The culture in our society was changing."
In "Love in the NBA," the book on which he collaborated with Ron Rapaport while with the Lakers in 1975, Stan wrote that he and several Oregon teammates popped Dexedrine before many of the games.
"I found it was harder for guys to guard me when I was on something," Love wrote.
"I said that?" Love asks today, laughing. "It might have been a little bit true. I was just trying to keep up with what was going on. You'd play against UCLA and Sidney (Wicks) and Curtis (Rowe) would be foaming at the mouth and jumping two feet higher than usual. It was a sign of the times.
"I never smoked pot until later on in life, but I knew there were some guys at the end of the bench — some very famous Oregon names — who were stoned to the gills watching from the front row. And if they got called to go into the game, it would have been ... ha!"
The Bullets made Love the ninth pick in the 1971 NBA draft, and he wound up playing two years with them and a season and a half with the Lakers before being released midway through the 1974-75 season. He played 12 games with the San Antonio Spurs of the old American Basketball Association, then played three-quarters of a season professionally in France in 1975-76 before retiring as a player at age 26.
Love signed a four-year, $460,000 rookie contract with the Bullets, a sizable deal in the early '70s.
Not quite in the same ballpark, though, as that of his son in today's NBA world. Kevin recently completed the first year of a four-year, $120-million pact with the Cavaliers.
"He's overpaid," his father jokes. "I played in the days when Jerry West was making $450,000. It was a very different time."
The list of Love's teammates during his short pro career reads like a "Who's Who" in NBA history, including Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, Archie Clark, Earl Monroe, Phil Chenier, Gus Johnson, West, Gail Goodrich, Connie Hawkins and Pat Riley. Love played for coach Bill Sharman with the Lakers. All but Clark and Chenier are members of the Naismith Hall of Fame.
Love had a solid rookie season with the Bullets in 1971-72, averaging 7.9 points and 4.6 rebounds in only 17.9 minutes. But his production and playing time went down every season, and he never cracked a starting lineup.
"I was on teams with some super players," he says. "You can't put Elvin Hayes or Wes Unseld on the bench so I can play. In retrospect, I should have gone to the ABA, or to a crummier team where I'd play more. I was with top-tier teams featuring All-Stars and Hall-of-Famers."
The best player he ever played with, Love says, was West, who late in his career would take an occasional shot of Novocaine to mask pain.
"That was creepy," Love says. "I'm afraid of needles, anyway. Once Jerry had a pulled groin, and he'd go into the training room before the game, lie down, and the trainer would shoot this giant needle into his groin. They'd shoot up (players') knees — there was no 'load management' in those days. You'd have to go out there every night and earn your paycheck."
The toughest guy Love played with was Johnson, a 6-6, 240-pound forward who averaged 16.2 points and 12.1 rebounds during his 10-year career.
Says Love: "Gus was so strong, he would grab your wrist as you were running by, and you would just hope he wouldn't break your arm."
Love's favorite teammate was Hawkins.
"Connie became a good friend of mine," says Love, who played with Hawkins for a season and a half with the Lakers. "We played the same position, and we'd go at it physical and hard in practice. He'd dunk on me, and I'd try to dunk on him.
"He was a tremendous person — kind, gentle, loving, giving. In the offseason, we would visit a lot. Once, I took him out in the ocean on my little 22-foot jet boat. He had a death grip on the side of the boat. He said, 'Stan, I don't know how to swim.'
"In his formative years, Kevin was blessed to have the opportunity to speak to Connie many times on the phone. He frequently gave Kevin 'the talk,' telling him what it takes to become great. Kevin chose to wear No. 42 because of his relationship with Connie."
Love was regarded as a free spirit during his playing days. He wore a high Afro and handlebar mustache and was referred to in one publication as the "playboy of the NBA's Western Conference."
More than once, Sharman prodded Love to work on his attitude and take the game more seriously. With his brother playing with the Beach Boys, Stan gained a reputation as a surfer dude — he actually was a surfer dude — who happened to play basketball. Did that affect his career?
"I think it did, the perception of being a playboy," Love says today. "It had a lot to do with my brother being in rock-and-roll and the Hollywood thing. (Coaches) weren't ready for it."
Love respected Sharman, but they had their issues. Once, when Sharman inserted him late in a blowout victory, Love told him as he walked toward the scorer's table, "Bill, I think this is a pretty sh—y deal."
"I had a little pride," Love says. "When you're ahead by 30 and the coach wants to put you in with two minutes left, that doesn't fly. Bill and I had a personality conflict. He was really old-school. He thought he was a defensive genius. I was a proponent of scoring points and outscoring teams."
After retiring as a player, Love toured the world with the Beach Boys for five years in two different stints in his late 20s and early 30s. Love essentially acted as bodyguard and caretaker for Brian Wilson, who happens to be Love's cousin. Wilson dealt with groupies and drug problems and hangers-on who wanted to rub shoulders with a celebrity.
"Those were chaotic years," Love says. "It was 24 hours a day of worrying, trying to keep the creeps away. Fame and money in rock-and-roll — it's all a very dangerous area to live in."
During that time, Brian's late brother Dennis — another member of the band — was supplying him with cocaine. That did not set well with Love or another Wilson caretaker, former UO football player Rocky Pamplin. Posing as police officers one night, they busted into Dennis' house and laid a brutal beating on Dennis. Love was eventually fined $750 and put on six months probation over the incident.
"Do you think (Dennis) got the message?" Love says. "Brian is a very fragile individual with a lot of mental challenges. For someone to give him access to cocaine — that pissed me off. People get what they deserve. Dennis was one of the most problem persons I've come across."
Love estimates he has attended more than 300 Beach Boys concerts through the years. Brother Mike is still the band's front man.
"Mike has been unbelievable to hold down that brand and keep them on tour for all these years," Stan says. "The demographics (of their fans) are anybody from teenagers to 80-year-olds. They've put together a great body of work. Mike was always the prod that made Brian go. Brian would still be sleeping in bed if it weren't for Mike."
Not long after Stan and Karen married in 1986, they moved from Southern California to Lake Oswego to begin raising a family, which also includes daughter Emily.
Kevin has become one of the best power forwards in basketball, a five-time All-Star, an Olympic gold medalist and an NBA champion with the Cavaliers. Stan was the one who first helped him develop his game.
"Kevin is one of the hardest-working guys I've ever known, and that started when he was 7 or 8 years old," Stan says. "I coached him through his formative years, taught him how to shoot properly. I told him that black guys like to block your shots, so give them head fakes."
Kevin has become an important advocate for mental health and has been transparent about his own issues with depression. On May 1, he was one of the recipients of the "Change Maker Awards" at the Child Mind Institute's annual ceremony in New York in honor of his support for treating mental health issues. His father wasn't fully aware of Kevin's own issues growing up.
"But that all runs in our family back to the Great Depression," Stan says. "I've dealt with depression. Brian has it. Kevin's thing is, everybody has a little something going on. Kevin wants to help people who have problems like that."
The Loves are empty-nesters now, but Stan finds things to do.
"I'm a reader," he says. "I like to garden. I listen to music. I like to travel. I like to watch Oregon State baseball. I keep busy. Life is good. I've been lucky."
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