Dressed meticulously in a dark blue suit and conservative tie, with white handkerchief points poking out of his pocket, Bob Love looks every inch--all 80 of them--the corporate executive. Only his height hints of his former profession: basketball star for the Chicago Bulls and Seattle SuperSonics. Until he speaks, there's no hint of the rough transition between life on the court and life as a businessman.
"Let me tell you, retirement is a rude awakening," he says. "You're no longer the star of the game. You're just another person looking for a job."
Love, 47, knows a thing or two about ups and downs. He grew up in Louisiana, one of 13 kids in a two-bedroom house. He went to college on a football scholarship. Then, following a back operation in his rookie year, he soared to stardom during a 12-year pro basketball career. Until Michael Jordan beat his record recently, he was the Bulls' all-time scoring champ. His top annual salary was $120,000--high for those days.
When he retired from the Sonics in 1977, Love thought he was prepared. Unlike many teammates, he had a college degree--in food and nutrition, from Southern University in Louisiana. But Love also had a handicap: a humiliating, debilitating stutter. "I would try to sell myself," he says, "and I couldn't do it."
For seven years, he drifted. He had almost no savings. His deferred compensation and severance pay added up to no more than $18,000 a year--not much, especially with a wife and five kids. Then his marriage fell apart, and the alimony payments started. "Once I got my divorce, I lost everything," he says.
'SCARED AND HUNGRY.' After that, Love went through a string of menial jobs. A second back operation in 1982 nearly took the fight out of him. He remembers hobbling down the Seattle streets with a cane. "I was scared and I was hungry. I had to do something."
In December, 1984, he got a job busing tables and washing dishes in the cafeteria at Nordstrom's department store in Seattle. One day, John N. Nordstrom, one of the retailers' four co-chairmen, offered to pay for speech therapy. "Bob was obviously a quality person, and in our eyes a celebrity," recalls Nordstrom. After speech therapy, "he just kind of blossomed."
Love, who now speaks with only a mild stutter, has worked his way up to health and sanitation director for all of Nordstrom's 59 restaurants and 35 espresso bars nationwide. He's making, he says, a "really comfortable salary."
As part of his job, Love gives speeches to high school kids. His favorite theme: "If you get out there and give an honest day's work, you can succeed. Nobody's going to help you if you don't try to help yourself first."
He's also working on an autobiography and on a made-for-TV movie about his life. It will no doubt have a happy ending--one you can believe.
Dori Jones Yang in Seattle