Bob Love’s road to NBA stardom was a long one. Drafted by the Cincinnati Royals in 1965, Love wound up spending his rookie professional season in the Eastern Basketball League. Turns out the 4th Round pick of the Royals was not deemed good enough for the NBA, but with the Trenton Colonials in the Eastern League, Love soared and took home of Rookie of the Year honors in 1966
With a second shot at the NBA, Love made the Royals roster, but languished as a reserve in 1967 and 1968. The Royals left the unimpressive forward unprotected for the Milwaukee Bucks’ expansion draft. The Bucks snagged Love but traded him after just 14 games to the Chicago Bulls. He continued to ride the pine and averaged a career-low 5 points for the Bulls.
That’s two leagues and four teams for Love in his first four seasons.
Finally, in his fifth pro season at age 27, Love began to soar. Averaging 21 points a game in 1970, Love then notched 25 points per game in 1971, and peaked in 1972 with 26 points a night. Overall from 1970 to 1976, the forward would maintain a 22.6 PPG and 7.1 RPG average with the Chicago Bulls.
The smooth-scoring forward earned the nickname “Butterbean” for his effortless and gossamer shots. Love could turn baseline and nail tough fade-aways, go middle and knock down turn-arounds, curl off picks for catch-and-shoots… if there was a way to make a jump shot Bob Love knew how to do it and do it well.
Teaming with Jerry Sloan, Norm Van Lier, Chet Walker, and Tom Boerwinkle, Love formed the core of a highly successful Bulls team in the early-and-mid 1970s. The squad perennially pushed deep into the playoffs, but never quite got over the hump. For his efforts, though, Love was recognized as one of basketball’s best forwards in the era with a combined 8 All-Star, All-NBA, and All-Defensive team selections.
But with such a late rise to greatness, Love’s peak didn’t last extraordinarily long. By his 10th NBA season he was already 34-years old. He endured a quick, precipitous decline. In 1976, his field goal percentage plummeted to 39% and the next year (1977) he played briefly for the Bulls, New York Nets, and Seattle SuperSonics. For those trio of teams, Love averaged only 7 points in what would be his final season.
It was an abrupt, unceremonious end. Given how his basketball career began in a similar unceremonious fashion it was somewhat fitting for Love. But the splendor of what occurred in between shouldn’t be discounted. The Butterbean was one smooth shooter.
Seasons Played: 1967 – 1977
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1971-’72)
3x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1972, 1974-’75)
3x All-Star (1971-’73)
NBA - 789 Games
17.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.4 APG, 42.9% FG, 80.5% FT