Kevin Love walked to halfcourt toward a group of kids from St. Jude's Children's hospital, determined to bring a few smiles to some little faces that were in need of a boost.
Truthfully, the Minnesota Timberwolves power forward needed a pick-me-up as well. And that's just what he got when Avery Evans, a 4-year-old being treated for pediatric cancer, walked up to meet him.
"I reached my hand out for a high-five and she hugged my leg," Love said Sunday. "So I reached down and gave her a big hug. She turned and put her cheek against my shoulder and smiled at the camera."
Love melted a little bit, as a season of frustrating starts and stops was momentarily forgotten. Love received the Kia Community Assist award Sunday for organizing a winter coat drive that brought thousands of coats to those in need in the Twin Cities. He also met with the kids as part of the NBA Cares initiative that is teaming up with St. Jude's and the V Foundation to fight pediatric cancer. Pau and Marc Gasol, David Lee, George Karl and Lionel Hollins are among the other NBA representatives participating.
"It's an awesome opportunity," said Tony Giuliani, whose 7-year-old son, Drew, was among the children who met Love before the game against Golden State. "A lot of people don't get to see this kind of stuff. Unfortunately, we're here for bad reasons. But for us, things have gone the right way and it's great of the Timberwolves organization and Kevin Love to spend time with patients that really have a hard thing in life to deal with. It's really a benefit for us to do something like that."
Love has been active in the community since he arrived in Minnesota in 2008, making the coat drive his signature event but also spending time with families of sick children. It has always brought him a little extra perspective and made him feel good, but this year he needed it a little more than usual. He has broken his shooting hand twice, limiting him to 18 games in the first season of a new four-year contract. He also drew the ire of fans early in the season when he publicly complained about his deal and openly wondered about the direction of the franchise.
The Wolves, who opened the season with designs on making the playoffs for the first time since 2004, have struggled without their star, and several other players who have been injured. They started the day 20-32 and in 12th place in the West.
"A day like today always helps put the bad stuff in the past and really look forward to bigger and brighter things," Love said. "I think that we have had a tough year as far as injuries go. We've been losing a lot. But on a day like today, I think it's really gratifying and nice."
Love said he plans to meet with doctors for another examination on his surgically repaired hand toward the end of the first week in March or the beginning of the second week. He's hoping to return with 15-20 games remaining in the season to try and put a positive end to a most disappointing year.
Love first broke his hand in the preseason, didn't have surgery and returned about 10 days ahead of schedule. He broke it again in January and this time needed surgery to fix it. He said the injury is feeling much better this time around, but he has yet to begin basketball-related activities.
"After surgery, it feels just different. Better," Love said. "It feels like my hand again."
While he is waiting to return to the court, he'll soak up moments like the one he shared with little Avery to try and remember that things could be so much worse.
"When you see a family getting taken care of and what they have to go through, I mentioned perspective," Love said. "It's really great to see what St. Jude's done. It's really great to see."