My daughter Maggie is a month old and so far I’ve read her the first three books of The Odyssey. And she doesn’t seem to care very much. Not that I blame her, because things haven’t really started to get good yet. Antinous is being a total douche, young Telemachus has just arrived in Pylos looking for word of his father Odysseus, and King Nestor is acting like a witness on Law & Order (“No, I didn’t see anything unusual when we left Troy. Except …”). But it’s not really for her benefit as much as mine. Homer’s archetypal story of return feels good in your face; it leaves a rich, hearty taste in your mouth when read aloud. Kind of like running, it can feel awkward at first, but once you’ve put in some time on it, the feel it gives you—the rhythm, the forward pull of it, the compulsion to keep going—is unique.
So maybe all that reading was why, when I tuned into last night’s Timberwolves game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, I found myself thinking that Kevin Love was looking a little less like a caveman in the thicker beard he’d grown this season. With his hair long enough to start curling and his beard tamed a bit, he seemed a bit more heroic. “Kevin Love looking pretty Agamemnon-ish,” I tweeted.
The brother of wronged Menelaus, leader of the Achaean forces that laid siege to Troy: it seemed reasonable enough. Although maybe I was just thinking of Brian Cox playing the role in Troy. But as the game unfolded, as Love’s points climbed towards 30, then 40, and then further, even without the help of Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic, another comparison came to mind.
Here, after all, was a man who’d been on the road a long time, who hadn’t seen home in two weeks and had, in that time, faced down opponents in exotic locales like Salt Lake City, Sacramento, and San Antonio. He and his men had escaped by the skin of their teeth from the Cyclops in Phoenix, clashed with Warriors in the Land of the Dead (aka East Oakland). He had known success and failure both, and along the way he’d lost comrades in arms, taken down by the cruel gods. When he won, it wasn’t because he was the strongest or fastest, but because of his wiley cunning, his innate sense of where a rebound would land, his ability to fake his way into the lane and draw fouls, his deadeye shooting from distance.
Forget Agamemnon. Kevin Love was going straight Odysseus in Oklahoma City.
Here he was, facing his final test before finally reaching home, against perhaps his greatest foe, the presumed first seed of the Western Conference. The Wolves have been beaten down physically, lacking not only Rubio, but also Pekovic and Michael Beasley. For much of the fourth quarter and both overtimes, they were running a unit consisting of Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea, Anthony Tolliver, and Wayne Ellington. Barea certainly had himself a game (and the first Timberwolves triple double since Kevin Garnett did it in 2007) but that supporting cast hardly looked like world-destroyers. But as Love steered his team into the fourth quarter down six, skirting Kevin Durant on one side and Russell Westbrook on the other, it was like he was striding the decks, enjoining the team to step it up:
“Friends, we’re hardly strangers at meeting danger—
and this danger is no worse than what we faced
when Cyclops penned us up in his vaulted cave
with crushing force! But even from there my courage,
my presence of mind and tactics saved us all,
and we will live to remember this someday,
I have no doubt. Up now, follow my orders,
all of us work as one!”
The severely undersized Timberwolves chipped into the lead over the course of the quarter, somehow managing to send the Thunder to the line only 20 times the whole game and keeping it close until they tied it with 20 seconds left. Love had 39 points, had done everything he could to keep it close, but the Thunder had Kevin Durant, a basketball demon with “twelve legs, all writhing, dangling down / and six long-swaying necks, a hideous head on each, / each head barbed with a triple row of fangs, thickset, / packed tight—and armed to the hilt with black death!” And with the game on the line, he did Kevin Durant things:
But down 3 with 3.9 seconds left, the Wolves inbounded the ball to Love. Closely guarded, he nonetheless turned and did some Love things:
That basket tied his season high at 42 and then with a pair of free throws in the first overtime he tied Kevin Garnett’s franchise-high 47 and surpassed it with 48. The game teetered back and forth through the first overtime, ending deadlocked again, but the game slipped away in the second overtime.
Zeus the son of Cronus mounted a thunderhead
above our hollow ship and the deep went black beneath it.
Nor did the craft scud on much longer. All of a sudden
killer-squalls attacked us, screaming out of the west,
a murderous blast shearing the two forestays off,
so the mast toppled backward, its running tackle spilling
into the bilge. The mast itself went crashing into the stern,
it struck the helmsman’s head and crushed his skull to pulp
and down from his deck the man flipped like a diver—
his hardy life spirit left his bones behind.
Then, then in the same breath Zeus hit the craft
with a lightning-bolt and thunder. Round she spun,
reeling under the impact, filled with reeking brimstone,
shipmates pitching out of her, bobbing round like seahawks
swept along by the whitecaps past the trim black hull—
and the god cut short their journey home forever.
With two more free throws after this turning point, Love got all the way up to 51 points, just the third 50-point game of the season. But it ultimately wasn’t enough to stave off defeat at the hands of Westbrook, who had a career high 45, and Durant, who had a career high 17 rebounds to go with 40 points. By the end of the 149-140 contest—likely one of the best games in the NBA this season—the Wolves, and Love in particular, looked absolutely gassed and who wouldn’t be after a two-week slog that’s no doubt felt like twenty years?
When the Wolves face Denver on Sunday it will finally be on home turf, back in good old Ithaca. Sure, Telemachus will still be out following ACL surgery, but Love will still be Love, the man of twists and turns, and he’ll be ready to string up his bow and drive the Nuggets from Target Center.