Chris Paul and LeBron first made acquaintances at the Jordan Capital Classic high school all-star game in Washington in 2003. Pals ever since.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook bonded at basketball camp. Made it to the Finals together.
With the proliferation of AAU, summer basketball and prep-school all-star games, many of today’s young NBA stars met and formed relationships at a tender age. Like his peers who traveled the high school hoops circuit, Kevin Love forged alliances with many of his Team USA teammates long ago.
So who has Love known the longest? You might be surprised: Tyson Chandler, the second oldest member of the squad. Although you can credit high school hoops for the intro, Love's first brush with Chandler was while the Timberwolves forward was in sixth grade.
In December of 2000, powerhouse Dominguez High School (Compton, Calif.) headed north to Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Ore., for the prestigious Les Schwab Invitational with a national No. 2 ranking and a projected top-five lottery pick in senior center Chandler. (Melo’s Oak Hill Academy played that year, too.)
Tournament organizers selected a group of local kids to serve as ball boys during the five-day, 16-team tournament. They drew out of a hat to determine the team they’d be assigned to for the week.
Love, then a 6-foot-1 sixth grader, drew Dominguez.
“I followed Tyson around the whole week,” says Love. “I was this suburban, pudgy white kid thinking one day I could be as good as him.”
Love rebounded daily for Chandler in warmups and practice while studying his moves and squeezing in conversation whenever he could. Chandler signed several autographs for the kid. The pair became chummy, to the point that Love started dishing out smack talk.
“I’m gonna be in the NBA one day,” Love told the senior. “You’ll want my autograph someday. You’ll see.”
Chandler was amused. “He was just this little fat kid,” he recalls, “but he was funny.”
(Love was on to something: Three years later he became the first freshman MVP of the Les Schwab tournament.)
The duo's next meeting wouldn’t come for nine years. Love’s Timberwolves played Chandler’s Hornets in January of Love's rookie season. Before the game, in which Chandler didn’t play, Love walked up to him and asked, “Remember me?”
Chandler was stumped. Love refreshed his memory.
“I just thought it was crazy that he was the same kid from way back then,” Chandler says.
Fast-forward to London where, in many ways, Team USA’s hopes for gold could come down to their bigs: Love and Chandler. Every now and then they share a laugh about their initial meeting and the remarkable fact that 12 years later they’re Olympic teammates.
It’s a bond that they’ll always have — but Chandler is still waiting for that autograph.