In the Chinese tradition of Taoism, there are eight legendary xian who became immortal by following the way of Tao. Each of the Eight Immortals represents a different facet of humanity and had unique powers — as well as unique paths to immortality. For the 2014 All-Star Profiles, I took a look at the Eight Immortals of the NBA. Kevin Love is Cao Guojiu, betrayed by family and forced to choose between wandering alone or staying put.
Kevin Love can’t win. Or, more appropriately, the Minnesota Timberwolves can’t.
Well, that’s still a little disingenuous. It’s not that the Wolves can’t win; it’s that winning in the NBA is really, really hard. And the more wins you’re after, the harder it becomes. That’s not an excuse, just an acknowledgement of reality. So there have been some tough times in Minnesota during Kevin Love’s tenure. Questionable front office decisions made by less-than-questionable executives. Coaching philosophies that didn’t really jive with the roster, especially Love, who was famously (perhaps apocryphally) discouraged from shooting threes by former coach Randy Wittman. All of it, every last bit of it, has created an environment overwhelmed by the question of whether or not Love will be in Minnesota for the long run. When wins and losses pile up in equal number, it can make the future quite a mess.
And the actions of those around him have started to take their effect on Love’s reputation. The family that’s supposed to support him and nurture his game, which in turn would allow him to lead them to championship immortality, hasn’t always been there with the proper tools for the job. It’s a step too far to call the first six years of Love’s career a betrayal by the organization, but it’s the tone that history might take if he someday leaves for warmer temperatures and title aspirations.
Cao Guojiu, on the other hand, faced a more clear cut decision. He was oldest uncle to the Emperor, a position of power (hooray, nepotism!). Such prestige offered Cao Guojiu and his family certain leeway, which his younger brother Cao Jingzhi used to the fullest extent. He was a bully at best; some accounts tell of him murdering villagers who stood in his way, regardless of how trivial his desires at the time might have been. Punishment was hard to come by, though, as the brothers’ connections made him nearly untouchable. Cao Guojiu was wracked with guilt by the misdeeds of his family and nearly executed for them when the emperor decided he’d finally had enough. After Cao Jingzhi was put to death, however, the emperor amnestied Cao Guojiu, who disavowed his former life, recognizing it as empty and evil. He gave up his nobility and became a hermit, carrying with him a jade writing tablet that he used to make right what was wrong in an area or situation.
To those who would belittle Love’s contributions and equate him to a good player simply getting numbers on a bad team, Love is just as guilty in the Wolves’ mediocrity as everyone else. But the truth is that for all of his talent, Love doesn’t possess such a tablet. He can’t make the imperfect immaculate. Not yet, anyway, and not in this situation.
There’s still time for Minnesota to renounce the past. Making the playoffs would be a start. Sooner than later, though, Love might have to make a decision. Does he stay, or does he go?