By Kevin Callahan
Steve Love was watching the NBA playoffs this year on TV when he saw a familiar play from LeBron James.
It was a dunk in 2011 against the 76ers in the playoffs when James played for the Heat.
“With the finals going on, they were just showing highlights and I remember that dunk in Philly because I saw it live,” said Steve Love, who was 12-years-old at the time.
Growing up in Voorhees, about a half hour drive from the Wells Fargo Center, Love was already a fan of the 76ers. He had heard the stories of how his father, Tommy, grew up in Pennsauken and played pickup basketball games with former 76ers all-star guard Doug Collins at the old Jewish Community Center on Route 70 next to Bishop Eustace Prep School.
“I had known my dad was friends with Doug and he told us about them and we still have a signed Doug Collins’ ball,” Steve Love said.
Sadly, Tommy Love passed away in April of 2011 from cancer at the age of 51. He was a star basketball player in the mid-70’s at Camden Catholic and then played at Quinnipiac University, where he met his wife, Sue.
Weeks after Tommy passed, Collins, who was the coach of the Sixers, sent tickets to the Love family for the playoff game against the Heat – the one that Steve recently saw the promotional highlight of the James’ dunk.
About 10 family members attended the game, including the four children of Tommy and Sue — Steve (now 18), Sarah (28), Tylor (23) and Emmalee (21).
“I remember it being a really special night,” Tommy’s younger brother, Dan, said.
Collins’ compassionate gesture of giving tickets to the Love family never could have erased the pain the family still feels, but going to the game did ease the hurt for a few hours, at least.
“It was the first night we got together and didn’t talk about… ,” Sue said. “It was our first night of fun. It felt good to have somewhat of a normal night.”
“I don’t know if we laughed, but this was a night we didn’t talk about it,” Tylor added.
Tommy Love took his son Tylor to watch LeBron James play in high school at the Palestra.
“I had never been to a playoff game and that was the first time I’d seen LeBron play since high school,” Tylor gushed.
Later that year, Dan remembers seeing Collins at the 76ers’ Summer Bash at Avalon, saying, “He gave us a huge hug and talked about Tommy.”
Dan was a couple years younger than his brother, but he also played basketball at the JCC when it was a hotspot for pickup games in the early to mid-1970’s when Collins would play with the admiring local high school players.
“Tommy was always playing at the Jewish Community Center with Doug,” Dan said. “I remember one day Doug dropping Tommy off at the house in his car. It was so cool. Doug was just one of the guys.”
Tylor Love thinks it is uber cool, too, that his father played pick up basketball in the summer with the 76ers’ No. 1 pick.
“It’s crazy,” Tylor marveled. “It would be like me playing basketball with Markelle Fultz. That’s crazy.”
And, it wasn’t just playing ball, Collins treated Tommy Love like a kid brother.
“I remember Doug had given Tommy his sneakers,” Sue said. “Tommy wore his sneakers.”
When Sue met Collins years later, after he became an NBA all-star and an accomplished announcer, she remembers the two talking like old pals.
“Tommy didn’t introduce me to him as a pro athlete,” Sue said. “I had no idea who he was.
“They stayed in touch,” Sue added. “We would go over to his house.”
And just like with his father and Collins, pickup basketball is still important to Tylor and Steve Love. Although both were outstanding baseball players at Eastern High School, they play old school pickup games in their neighborhood outdoor courts.
They even play a pickup tournament once a year called “Ballfest.”
“We have 10 teams of three,” Steve Love explained. “We play at the bottom of my hill, there’s a park there with a nice court.
“We’ve been doing it for seven years now.”
Many of the players grew up playing baseball on the Gibbsboro-Voorhees Athletic Association little league field, which was named the “Tom Love Memorial Field” in 2012. Tommy helped coach the 2007 Gibbsboro American Legion team that won the New Jersey state championship
“We draft players, it is kind of like how the lottery works in the NBA,” explained Steve Love.
Steve Love “plans to keep it going.”
He knows it was a different era – before teams had their own training facilities – when a NBA player like Collins would show up and play pickup, but that doesn’t mean Steve Love isn’t a fan of Markelle Fultz.
“Absolutely I can’t wait,” Steve said about the upcoming 76ers’ season.
“I like it,” he added about this year’s top pick, “I think Fultz is the most athletic one in the draft.”