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Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers reflected on the 2021-22 season and how he battled back from a down 2020-21 campaign and criticism during the offseason to finishing runner-up in the Sixth Man of the Year Award voting.
Love embraced and thrived in a bench role with the Cavaliers and had Cleveland in the thick of the playoff hunt all season. If not for a few untimely injuries down the stretch, the Cavaliers may have been playing in the first round of the playoffs instead of fighting for a spot in the play-in tournament.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love smiles after a play during the second half of a game against the Miami Heat Dec. 1, 2021, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Love averaged 13.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in 74 games, the most he’s appeared in since the 2015-16 season.
“After the most frustrating injury of my career in the 20-21 season and an exit from USA Basketball in the summer due to not feeling fully healed and in shape — many people said I was done,” the 5-time All-Star wrote in an Instagram post. “Some even went as far to say ‘Love should soon consider retirement…’. This even came from some I thought I respected and to my face and behind my back were Fugazi. I never let that commentary shake my belief system.
“I reevaluated a lot of relationships but took the time to a–es the guy in the mirror first. I worked my a– off to come in to the season healthy with the goal of being available and the mindset of helping lead a young team in taking the next step. Be the vet I never had early in my career. Help build a winning culture that permeates no matter the lineup. To the (dogs) – you know old man loves you!!”
Love was selected to U.S. basketball team for the Olympics last summer but was immediately hammered with criticism from ESPN’s Jalen Rose, who said Love’s appearance on the team was akin to “tokenism.”
Kevin Love (0) high-fives Lauri Markkanen (24) and Cedi Osman (16) of the Cleveland Cavaliers during a game against the Brooklyn Nets during the 2022 play-in tournament April 12, 2022, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Love eventually left the team, citing “performance level.”
“Sacrifice gives back more than it costs,” Love added in his post. “For this team to make a leap — I had to sacrifice and come off the bench for the first time since my Sophomore season in the NBA 13 years ago. I didn’t fight it, I was hungry to have positive impact and produce like I always have. I’m thankful for JB (Bickerstaff)’s transparency and trust. You allowed me to be the best version of myself. It’ll always be bigger than basketball with us.
“Numbers don’t lie…so I’m gonna just list a few here. For bench players I led the league in double doubles. Broke a franchise record for 3pt FG’s off the bench. Lead the team with 187 3pt FG’s. Tied as the league leader in charges taken. As for my goal of being available — I lead the team in games played and outside of games missed due to covid — played in every game.”
He said being the runner-up as a sixth man was important to him because he was focused on earning his respect back.
“Reaffirmations — Never be defined by what other people say you are. Almost all of the time people don’t see the view or perspective from the floor of the arena. A lot of seats in the arena are filled with those who have never ventured out onto the floor — they throw shade at a safe distance.”
Kevin Love (0) of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks to pass as Kevin Durant (7) of the Brooklyn Nets defends during the second half of the Eastern Conference 2022 play-in tournament at Barclays Center April 12, 2022, in Brooklyn. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Lastly, to his teammates, followers and critics, Love had a message.
“So keep showing up.
“And f— what THEY think.”
Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro picked up the Sixth Man of the Year Award. Herro received 96 first-place votes to Love’s three. Phoenix Suns forward Cam Johnson also received a first-place vote.