Love And Basketball

“‘There are no perfect people,'” Chicago Bulls legend Bob Love says his grandmother would tell him as a young boy. “No matter who you are or where you come from, everyone has a disability of some sort. But just hold on to your dream and one day it will come true.”

Born to a 16-year-old mother on a plantation in Delhi, Louisiana, Love, 65, was raised by his maternal grandparents and grew up working in the fields picking cotton and baling hay. His dream was to become an inspirational orator like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but his disability–a severe stutter that often rendered him mute–kept his vision at bay.

But the 6-foot-8-inch grandson of poor sharecroppers also had a gift as a skillful athlete. He was invited to Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on a football scholarship, which later changed to a basketball scholarship after he saw the size of the football players, and majored in food and nutrition to ensure he’d always be around food. “We didn’t have a lot when I was growing up,” he remembers. “I was always pretty hungry.”

Love never did become a dietician, but he didn’t go hungry either. He was drafted into the NBA in 1965 where he played 11 seasons–eight of those in Chicago, where he led the Bulls in scoring for seven straight years. (In the history of the franchise, only Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen have ever outscored him.)

A back injury forced Love to retire from the league in 1977. Unable to communicate with prospective employers, he spent the next seven years working odd jobs, eventually landing full-time employment at a Nordstrom department store in Seattle as a busboy and dishwasher earning $4.45 an hour. He refused to play the victim, though. “I decided to become the best dishwasher in the world. I never complained, I prayed every night, and I just believed things would change,” recalls Love. “In life, everything always changes. Whether it changes for the best or the worst depends on us.”

Love’s change came in 1986 when Nordstrom’s owners noted his hard work and offered to send him to speech therapy. Within a year, his communication skills had improved so much he was promoted to corporate human resources director for the store’s restaurant division and became a spokesman for the entire company. Love’s childhood dream had finally come true. But that was not the end of the story.

In 1992 Love received a call from Steve Schanwald, executive vice president of business operations for the Chicago Bulls. “Bob had a story about overcoming adversity that needed to be heard,” says Schanwald. “So we hired him to go all over town telling it. And now he goes all over the country telling it. He is truly one of the kindest, happiest, most generous, and most positive and optimistic people you would ever want to meet.”

Once unable to speak, Love–now in his 16th year as the Bulls’ director of community affairs–spoke candidly about his plight in Black Magic, a