Klay Thompson, Kevin Love go from Little League to NBA Finals
The intertwining paths of Klay Thompson and Kevin Love trace back to a baseball field in a Portland, Ore., suburb.
Long before the NBA All-Stars faced each other on their current sport’s biggest stage, they shared a Little League team. Thompson was the speedy leadoff hitter, Love the hard-throwing pitcher. Even then, while playing a sport that won’t figure in their legacy, the preteens recognized in one another the potential for greatness.
“Klay always had a quiet confidence about him,” Love said Saturday before his Cavaliers practiced for Game 2 of the NBA Finals. “There was something about Klay that separated him from the rest of the group.”
Said Thompson of Love: “He was a phenom as a kid. To be on the world stage with him, it’s really cool. It’s something I don’t take for granted.”
Fifteen years ago, a group of parents in Lake Oswego, Ore., hatched a plan: They would pool the best local kids for an All-Star team capable of reaching the Little League World Series. The centerpieces were a husky sixth-grader named Kevin and a soft-spoken fifth-grader named Klay.
Standing almost 6 feet, Love overpowered his peers. He whizzed fastballs past befuddled batters when he wasn’t crushing home runs. As a smooth-hitting shortstop, the rail-thin Thompson’s game was more finesse than dominance.
It was this potent tandem that powered the Lake Oswego Lakers to the 2001 state title before they narrowly missed a berth in the Little League World Series. Three years later, at the urging of his former-NBA-player father, Stan, Love quit baseball to focus on basketball. Around the same time, Thompson, whose dad also played in the NBA, moved with his family to Orange County.
The two childhood friends blossomed into high school basketball standouts. In summer 2005, at an AAU tournament in Portland, Love watched Thompson wow crowds with his silky jumper and advanced ballhandling.
“I knew he was good,” Love said. “I didn’t know he was that good.”
By the time he graduated from Lake Oswego High School, Love had solidified his status as one of the greatest high school players in Oregon history. His 2,628 career points were a state record. In each of his final three seasons, Love guided the Lakers to the state championship game. He was named the Gatorade National Male Athlete of the Year after averaging 33.9 points and 17 rebounds per game as a senior.
Love can’t help but wonder how great those Lake Oswego squads could have been had his former Little League teammate not moved. Surely South Medford High, led by future NBA player Kyle Singler, wouldn’t have beaten Lake Oswego in the state championship Love’s senior year.
“We could’ve done a lot of damage,” Love said.
Two summers ago, after six seasons in Minnesota without a playoff appearance, Love was desperate for a fresh start. The Timberwolves offered the Warriors a trade they figured would suit all parties: Thompson and David Lee for Love and Kevin Martin’s toxic contract.
But Golden State wasn’t willing to part with Thompson, who had quickly emerged as one of the NBA’s top shooters. It stands as one of the most important non-moves in franchise history. Thanks largely to the Splash Brothers — Thompson and Stephen Curry — the Warriors are three wins from their second straight NBA title.
Love, who missed the Finals last year with a dislocated shoulder, poses a major frontcourt challenge. Lost in Cleveland’s underwhelming Game 1 performance was yet another double-double (17 points, 13 rebounds) from the big man.
More than a decade ago, on a Little League diamond in Lake Oswego, Thompson could have never predicted this. All he understood at that time was Love was destined for greatness.
“Everyone knew he was special,” Thompson said.