Basketball / Sports

LeBron James, Kevin Love forged friendship at London Olympics

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- When he introduced Kevin Love to Cleveland on Tuesday, Cavs General Manager David Griffin called it a culmination of 18 months of trade negotiations. Truthfully, however, the genesis to the moment dated back even further, to the bus rides and countless locker room discussions at the 2012 London Olympics.

It was in those casual moments LeBron James began trying to cultivate a relationship with Love. James told Love he was going to be the reason the Americans won gold, consistently praising him and telling him he didn't realize just how good he was. Despite all the compliments, Love kept James at a distance and ignored most of what he was saying.

"I didn't know him well," Love said.

The two reunited at Michael Jordan's 50th birthday celebration the following February during All-Star weekend, when James again sought out Love. And when they met up again following one of James' charity events, James finally convinced Love he was serious about his praise.

But it all started at the London Olympics, just weeks after James won his first championship with the Miami Heat.

"That's when the relationship really forged," Love said Tuesday. "I thought that one day maybe I could play with LeBron James."

That moment arrived on July 11. Within hours of releasing his essay announcing his return to Cleveland, James called Love and asked if he was interested in joining him.

"I'm in," Love told James, and the creation of the Cavaliers' dynamic Big Three was fast-tracked.

While it's true the Cavs have been trying to acquire Love since former GM Chris Grant was in charge, they initially balked at the idea of trading the No. 1 pick after winning the draft lottery. Once Kyrie Irving signed his extension and James announced his return, however, their landscape changed dramatically.

Suddenly they were willing to include Andrew Wiggins in any deal despite not having any contractual assurance Love will remain in Cleveland. He can become a free agent after each of the next two seasons, but said Tuesday he intends on staying for a while.

"I'm committed long term to the end goal," he said, "and that's to win championships and to win a championship here in Ohio."

Love will wear No. 0 with the Cavs because his previous number, 42, is retired by the team. His second and third choices, Nos. 11 and 7, are also retired. So he took 0 because it was the first number he ever wore as a child.

While he spoke glowingly of his time in Minnesota, it's no secret the relationship at times was strained. As a result, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor questioned Love's injury history and his lack of defensive play while the Wolves introduced Wiggins and Anthony Bennett to their fans.

"The only thing I still have a question mark about is health," Taylor said. "I had that concern then 1/8when the Timberwolves negotiated his previous contract3/8 and I still have that concern. I think Cleveland should have that concern, too, if he can keep his health."

Love has missed 109 games (23 percent) due to injuries during his first six seasons, ranging from a concussion to fractures in both hands.

"I question Kevin if this is going to be the best deal for him because I think he's going to be the third player on the team," Taylor said. "I don't think he's going to get a lot of credit if they do really well. I think he'll get blame if they don't do well.

"He's around a couple guys that are awful good. I'm not saying Kevin isn't good. I think where maybe he got away with some stuff not playing defense on our team, I'm not sure that's how it's going to work in Cleveland. I would guess they're going to ask him to play more defense -- and he's foul prone."

Griffin called Love "a player that quite frankly fits us as well as anybody possibly could have." When Griffin and new coach David Blatt began discussing needs, Blatt asked for a big who could space the floor, pass and shoot.

Now Love has been delivered to their front door.

Griffin conceded there is risk involved because of Love's contract, but is confident James and Love will follow Irving in staying with the Cavs long term.

"I see it as a risk simply because there's a possibility they have a miraculous turn of thought," Griffin said. "But no, these guys are committed to the same things this franchise is. There's no doubt in my mind we're going to be together into the future for a very long time."

(c)2014 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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